Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek
Samoa have booked their place in the final four at OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2023 but were made to work in overcoming a dogged display from Tahiti, eventually settled by a penalty shoot-out in Suva.
As had been on display in the group stages, Samoa’s potent front three of Lilly Dowsing, Whitney Avei and Sariah Taeaoalii were at the forefront of their attack but were frustrated by a well-drilled and committed Tahitian defence as they looked to impose their will on proceedings.
Tahiti’s game plan suffered an early setback when Anavai Taaviri picked up an injury and was unable to continue, replaced by Heikulanie Lucas after only 15 minutes.
Samoa’s Taeaoalii especially was finding space in behind the defensive line time and again but a final product eluded her, either lacking support from her team mates or being crowded out by the defenders. In the 36th minute she finally broke clear, one-on-one with Tahiti goalkeeper Gelimma El Hadj Kaddour but could only drag her effort wide of the far post.
Arianna Skeers, so often the creative platform for Samoa was again a prominent figure for her side, almost facilitating the breakthrough when her excellent through ball found Avei but Tahiti’s Hinatea Annonier intervened just in time with an excellent block to keep the scores level.
In the first minute of stoppage time however Samoa finally got the breakthrough and it was no surprise that it came from Sariah Taeaoalii. Again finding herself with time and space on the right-hand side, she drove towards the Tahiti goal, showing outstanding composure to round El Hadj Kaddour and roll the ball into an unguarded net.
Ten minutes into the second-half and Dowsing almost made it 2-0 when a free-kick was played long in behind but a combination of ‘keeper and Maerehia Dehors cleared the danger behind for a corner.
Tahiti almost made their opponents pay for their prolificacy when Tewila Tagi lined-up a shot from fully 30 yards, which bounced just in front of Samoan goalkeeper Tsehai Viliamu, who let the ball bounce off her legs and scurry behind for a corner.
Samoa continued to push for a second that would have settled matters, with Dowsing again getting behind the Tahiti backline, this time denied by El Hadj Kaddour, with the ball breaking to Sariah Taeaoalii, whose effort was cleared off the line by Paetini Teikiteetini.
Those missed chances would come back to haunt Samoa, as with just over ten minutes to go, the impressive Krystal Vivish was upended in the penalty box after working her way past two defenders, the referee not hesitating in pointing at the spot.
Vivish dusted herself down before assuming penalty duties and calmly rolling the ball past Viliamu to the stopper’s left.
A late winner in the 90 came agonisingly close for Samoa, when Grace Taeaoalii towered above defence and goalkeeper to meet a corner kick, only to see it cleared off the line with the ‘keeper stranded.
With the minutes counting down, extra-time loomed and seemed inevitable with neither side able to fashion any real goalscoring chances.
The tempo understandably dropped as extra-time began with tired legs and minds creating more space across the park. Arianna Skeers almost took advantage but her long-range effort was gathered by El Hadj Kaddour at the second time of asking.
Chances to win in the extra 30 minutes for either side were few and far between, with Whitney Avei coming the closest as the seconds ticked down. Her initial free-kick caused havoc in the Tahiti area and after consecutive shots were blocked the ball finally fell back to Avei, who’s long-range effort whistled past the post.
It was, as had seemed inevitable, penalties to be the decider. Both sides were denied three times from the spot, until the responsibility eventually fell to Samoa’s Grace Taeaoalii after Tewila Tagi had seen her effort saved. Taeaoalii made not mistake, rolling the ball into the corner and ensuring Samoa’s Semi-Final berth on Wednesday.
Samoa: 1 (4) (Sariah TAEAOALII 45+1′)
Tahiti: 1 (3) (Krystal VIVISH PEN 79′)