Tahiti have made a winning start to their OFC U-17 Championship campaign, beating a brave Vanuatu 2-1 in Suva.
The match kicked off on a perfect HFC Bank Stadium surface, although the rain that’s been lashing Fiji in the last fortnight never felt far away.
Tahiti burst out of the blocks with a good early shot by Tahiarii Terimiitemataua. Vanuatu happy to sit back and try and counterattack, but it was a dangerous tactic as it simply allowed the Tahitians to dominate time on the ball.
However, it almost paid off as Yan Chilia made a breakaway out of nowhere to charge into the box, but a perfectly timed charge by Argan Clodic-Boucher meant Vanuatu were kept scoreless.
Tahiti won a free kick after a sliding challenge by Vanuatu defender Albert Timothy, who picked up a yellow card, but they couldn’t make use of it.
A fine Turerearii Terimiitemataua header hit the cross bar in the the 20th minute, by then Tahiti were peppering the Vanuatu goal and it felt like it was just a matter of time before they’d take the lead. Titouan Guillemant found himself with the ball at his feet after a scrappy corner, he didn’t need any more of an invitation to slide the ball past goalkeeper Joseph Nakou and open the scoring.
The next Tahitian goal was a bad break for Timothy, who found himself near his own penalty spot trying to deflect a floating cross by Keanan Faure. Unfortunately, his header sent the ball into the Vanuatu goal to double Tahiti’s lead.
Vanuatu, to their credit, picked up their game afterwards and enjoyed a lot more possession as the half ticked down. A free kick by Paul Takaro was well struck but ended up going straight into Clodic-Boucher’s hands.
Tahiti almost extended their lead after halftime but were undone by a stunning bit of defending. Dylan Hutia found himself in an acre of space and forced Nakou off his line, his chip looked destined for the back of the net, but Timothy Arukesa cleared it off the line with a courageous effort.
By now the Tahitian midfield was very much imposing themselves on Vanuatu, threading passes through the traffic and maintaining a healthy amount of pressure. Hutia was a constant threat.
Vanuatu had their best chance in the 66th minute, when Juniero Loli’s header went wide, but Tahiti swept back downfield for Tiahiti Colombani to unleash a thundering right footed shot that drew a spectacular diving save from Nakou.
Vanuatu again lifted their game from then on, winning a corner in the 82nd minute. A lovely delivery by Takaro found Delickson Judah able to send a stunning volley past Clodic-Boucher to peg the deficit back to one goal. However, they couldn’t find a way through for an equaliser, with Tahiti hanging on to take the three points.
Like the day’s earlier match, both sides made plenty of changes off the bench. Both Tahiti coach Raiarii Golhen and Vanuatu’s Emerson Alcantara will be particularly pleased with the work of their substitutes, especially Colombani and Judah.
The win sees Tahiti go to the top of Group C. Both teams will play the Cook Islands in the coming days, Tahiti on Saturday and Vanuatu on Tuesday. Both games will be back at HFC Bank Park in Suva.
The action continues on Thursday night, with hosts Fiji taking on Samoa.
TAHITI 2 (Titouan GUILLEMANT 24’, Albert TIMOTHY 36’ OG)
VANUATU 1 (Delickson JUDAH 82′)