Tonga has finished their ultimately unsuccessful campaign at the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship 2024 – Qualifying by beating American Samoa 4-3 at VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila.

Both teams were playing solely for pride, unable to snare the last remaining place at July’s OFC U-19 Men’s Championship in Samoa, a spot which will be determined by this afternoon’s final match between hosts Vanuatu and the Cook Islands.

But neither nation wanted to end their campaigns on a sour note and the match – played with pace and physicality – was in the balance until the final whistle.

Tongan captain William Foliaki opened the scoring in the 16th minute when he controlled a cross with aplomb and slotted home.

The scores were levelled just two minutes later when American Samoa’s trailing left winger Daniel Lee pounced on a blocked shot on goal and calmly finished past goalkeeper Siosiua Moimoi into the bottom left-hand corner.

American Samoa continued to press with athletic striker Petu Pouli at the heart of their attacking efforts. A long range shot in the 33rd minute gave Moimoi a scare, but the Tongan goalkeeper timed his leap excellently to protect his goal. Three minutes later Pouli chased a bouncing ball into the box but Moimoi jumped high to slap the ball away, collecting Pouli in the head in the process.

Tonga broke the 1-all halftime deadlock eleven minutes into the second spell when midfielder Tomasi Armitage burst into the box after beating the offside trap in a desperately tight call, staying calm to push the ball across the goal for the ever-threatening Vilikisepi Tai to tap in.

Just three minutes later Tonga went 3-1 up when the fresh legs of Monte Vaekau, on at halftime, side-stepped and rounded American Samoa goalkeeper Felise Fata to score.

American Samoa struck back within ten minutes when Pouli roared on to a head-on from Mike Sefo and left-footed a crisp shot past replacement goalkeeper Unaloto Pahulu.

But Tonga created a two-goal buffer once again within five minutes when Tai muscled his way into the box and beat Fata’s despairing dive.

There were four yellow cards shown in the second half – two to each side – as each nation became increasingly desperate, with that urgency rewarded for American Samoa when Pouli converted a penalty kick in added time after substitute Tia Silao was taken out by a flying Pahulu.

An equaliser, however, never came.

Tonga finished the three-round tournament with a draw against the Cook Islands, a loss to Vanuatu and today’s triumph over American Samoa, while the US territory showed promising signs despite three losses.

American Samoa: 3 (Daniel LEE 18, Petu Pouli 69’, 90+2’ (pen))

Tonga: 4 (William FOLIAKI 16’, Vilikisepi TAI 56’, 73’, Monte VAEKAU 59’)

HT: 1-1