Photo Credit: OFC Media (Samoan players celebrate Dilo Tumua’s opening goal against Tonga).

Samoa has taken a major step towards qualifying for the OFC Men’s Nations Cup in Vanuatu in June with a comprehensive 4-1 win over hosts Tonga at the qualifying tournament in Nuku’alofa.

Ravinesh Kumar’s side will win the OFC Men’s Nations Cup 2024 – Qualifying, if they beat the Cook Islands in Saturday’s second match of the three team, round robin tournament.

Samoa dominated from the outset and were rewarded in the 11th minute when a long ball over the top saw Tongan defender Kulisitofa Kite bring down striker Nathan Viliamu just inside the box. Referee Luke Gardner had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Dilo Tumua stepped up and fired the ball to the left of Tongan keeper Nimilote Moala to open the scoring. The goal sparked the home side into life and captain Hemaloto Polovili created a half chance for Mohammad Rajani on the edge of the box, but his shot was deflected wide of the goal.

(Photo Credit: OFC Media A sprawling Nimilote Moala can’t prevent Dilo Tumua’s 11th minute penalty from opening the scoring for Samoa)

Dauntae Mariner showed some deft footwork before putting the ball through to Viliamu bearing down on goal, but Vai Lutu was quick enough to get to ball the first and clear the danger.

From a freekick superbly delivered by Rajani, Polovili couldn’t keep his volley down to trouble 18-year-old Samoan keeper Joel Bartley.

Kaleb De Groot-Green forced a good save out of Moala in the 27th minute before Polovili collided mid-air with Bartley following a cross into the box resulting in both players lying prone on the ground. Both players were able to continue.

Polovili found himself in space seven minutes from halftime and fired off a left footed shot from just outside the box that drifted well wide of Bartley’s goal.

Samoa gave themselves a buffer just before the break when captain Andrew Setefano made a run down the left kept the ball and delivered the ball into the box, It bobbled around before Viliamu controlled it, stepped inside a defender, and scooped the ball into the right-hand corner of the net.

Tonga coach Kilifi Uele made three changes at the break in a bid to invigorate his side, but it was Samoa who were sharper from the outset and Viliamu should have had a second but blasted wide from 12 yards out almost immediately.

Viliamu showed silky skills to skin the defence and find himself one-on-one with Moala 12 minutes into the second spell, but the Keeper produced a splendid save to deny the striker. Moments later Moala almost gifted Viliamu his second when he didn’t put enough on a pass and Viliamu intercepted but blasted over the crossbar. On 61 minutes Viliamu would make no mistake, rifling a right footed shot into the room of the net from just inside the box to effectively seal the win for Samoa.

Tongan refused to give up and pressed forward in search of a goal to spark a comeback. But the Samoan defence marshalled by Setefano and US based 20-year-old Taine Wilson dealt with everything thrown at them. Substitute Ethan Stowers put the icing on the cake for the Samoans in the 90th minute with a well taken strike with his left foot to the delight of the small contingent of visiting fans.

There was some joy for the vocal local crowd deep into injury time when Kite made up for his early mistake by rifling home a consolation goal for the hosts.

Tongan hopes of qualifying for Vanuatu now rest on the Cook Islands upsetting Samoa otherwise Tuesday’s final matchday becomes a dead rubber contest.

Tonga: 1 (Kulisitoa KITE 90+5)
Samoa: 4 (Dilo TUMUA pen 11, Nathan VILIAMU 45+1, 61 Ethan STOWERS 90)

HT: 0-2