Host nation Fiji have kicked off their OFC U-17 Championship campaign with an impressive 3-0 win over Samoa at HFC Bank Stadium in Suva.
The home side poured on the pressure early, good running by Prahsant Kumar led to a couple of corners that really put the Samoan defence under pressure.
Great defensive work by Samoan defender Kingston Vaitusi spurred his side on to get into the game, when he made a textbook tackle inside his box to dispossess Vinayak Rao. The Samoan midfield started to provide skipper Pharell Trainor with some ball to work with, and the big striker was a constant threat.
His counterpart, Fijian captain Aron Naicker, was leading the way on defence for his side.
The first portion of the match was therefore quite even, with the Samoans growing in confidence. However, the breakthrough came just before the half hour mark, off a Fijian corner. Rao’s kick found William Khan unmarked at the far post, with the Fijian forward neatly heading home to open the scoring.
Ibraheem Afazal then continued to cause headaches for the Samoans, putting in a mesmerising run around the edge of the box and getting a shot off that drew a fine save by goalkeeper Kirk Auvele.
Samoa’s best chance to equalise in the first half came just before the break, when a searching free kick found Trainor open near the goal, but his shot went wide.
The crucial play came just after the halftime break. Afazel made a good run in after being unmarked on the sideline, then tried to curl a shot past Auvele. Prashant Kumar was on hand to finish off and double the lead, the goal seemed very much a turning point as the Fijians started playing with a lot more authority in midfield.
Vilikesa Vosagaga almost made it three moments later, but his shot flew over the bar from a handy position. But around 10 minutes afterwards they got the game sealing score, after referee Calvin Berg awarded them a penalty after Kumar was cut down very close to the edge of the box.
Rao stepped up and slammed home the spot kick to make it a bridge too far for the Samoans.
The rest of the match was a good bit of game management by the Fijians, whose defence were happy to absorb the Samoan attempts to peg back a goal. It wasn’t without cost, however, as the impressive Afazel limped off with 10 minutes to go= but despite that, he was awarded player of the match.
The win puts Fiji top of Group A, both they and Samoa face Tonga in their next games. It will be a big fixture for the Samoans, despite the loss they showed a lot of promise in this match from the likes of Trainor and fellow forward Alex Malauulu. Fiji get a six day break before their next match.
FIJI 3 (William KHAN 28’, Prashant KUMAR 49’, Vinayak RAO 60’ pen)