OFC Media via Phototek

Samoa have taken 3rd place at OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2023 with a dramatic victory over Cook Islands at HFC Bank Stadium in Suva.

A late goal from Cook Islands substitute Abrihana Enoka seemed to have sent the match to penalties after Arianna Skeers had put Samoa ahead with just over ten minutes remaining. However, a late penalty from Skeers deep into stoppage time secured the win for Samoa and the bronze medal.

Samoa asserted themselves for much of the opening 45 minutes, controlling the play in Cook Islands’ territory but left goalkeeper Kimberly Uini largely un-tested for long periods.

Arianna Skeers, so often the main attacking outlet for Samoa was again at the heart of their attacks but, as was the case in their semi-final defeat to Fiji, the final product was lacking. Skeers going closest early on with a long-range free-kick that was comfortably held by Uini.

Cook Islands were content to sit back and absorb the pressure, their structure and defensive resolve having been the key their underdog run to the final match day of the competition.

Whitney Avei was another positive factor for Samoa and it was her delicate through ball that almost led to the opening goal but Sariah Taeaoalii’s effort from just inside the box flew narrowly over the bar.

Avei then found herself with ample space in the area but on her left-foot could only direct her effort straight at Uini in the Cooks Islands’ goal.

The second-half followed a similar pattern to the first, with Samoa continuing to build on their dominance with little to show for it. Jan Taia, so dangerous from set-pieces throughout the championships, had her side’s first attempt on goal but her effort was gathered at the second time of asking by Samoan goalkeeper Tsehai Viliamu.

At the other end, Uini was called into action by Avei again, this time athletically tipping the attackers left-footed effort over the bar.

The Taeaoalii sisters almost combined to give their side the lead when Sariah’s cross from the right found Grace on the left-hand side but her attempt was straight at the keeper and Cooks Islands survived.

Their survival didn’t last much longer however when a Lilly Dowsing corner was missed by Uini and the ball struck Arianna Skeers on the chest and bounced into the unguarded net. Whether by accident or design, Skeers was a worthy candidate to break the deadlock.

With the minutes running down and Samoa seemingly in charge of the contest, Cook Islands somehow found a way to claw themselves back into the match. Substitute Abrihana Enoka pouncing on a loose ball from 25 yards out and her expert lob floated over Viliamu in the Samoa goal and nestled in the far corner to bring the scores level.

The drama was far from over however when Uini up-ended Sariah Taeaoalii in the box, giving the ref no option but to point to the spot. Skeers took on the responsibility and calmly slotted the ball low past Uini.

There was only time to re-start the match before the final whistle was immediately blown, giving Samoa an emotional victory.

Samoa: 2 (Arianna SKEERS 78′, 90+7′)
Cook Islands: 1 (Abrihana ENOKA ’89’)

HT: 0-0