Tahiti and Tonga win the points

The battle at the top of the table in Group B continued in the OFC U-17 Championship on Match Day 8 as Tahiti defeated Solomon Islands 3-0 in what was a must-win for both sides to secure a place in the semi-finals, while Tonga got their first win of the tournament after beating American Samoa 2-0.

Tahiti and Solomon Islands went into what was the third match of the Championship for both teams, sitting behind Vanuatu who held the top spot. This was the first real test for Tahiti against one of the high profile teams in Oceania while Solomon Islands were looking to make amends after their defeat at the hands of Vanuatu two days ago.

It started an even game between the two sides, with both pushing forward with clear intentions to try and score early goals. Tahiti had the first opportunity, with a free kick awarded by New Zealand referee Anna-Marie Keighley in the opening minute of the game. Keali Wong crossed it into the far post but his team mates were unable to get on the end of it. This was quickly followed by a second free kick to Tahiti, who again were unable to capitalise on the opportunity.

A short time later Solomon Islands finally had their chance on goal with a corner, but were also unable to score from the set piece.

It was end-to-end play before Tahiti’s top form striker Michel Maihi was able to get a shot on, but it went wide. Solomon Islands striker Hendrick Jirah replied with his own shot on goal minutes later but his too went wide.

It wasn’t until 34 minutes into the game before Tahiti were able to break the deadlock through a Marc Siejidr header, delivered from a corner kick giving his side a 1-0 lead.

Ludovic Graugnard’s players kept pushing forward in attack and were rewarded for their efforts in the final minutes of the first half. Solomon Islands goal keeper Oxson Buka received a yellow card, giving away a penalty in the third minute of added time. Maihi converted the penalty to score his tenth goal of the tournament and gave his team a 2-0 lead going into the half-time break.

Solomon Islands came out strongly in the second half, but Tahiti remained focused. Tahiti’s victory was sealed in the 58th minute through an own goal by Solomon Islands defender Richard Raramo, the win seeing Tahiti move to the top of the table ahead of Vanuatu on goal difference.

Tahitian coach Ludovic Graugnard was relieved with the result and pleased with his team’s performance.

“I am very happy because Solomon Islands could have made a lot of problems for us. My plan was to control the midfield and the forwards, and I think we won the midfield.

“We did not have any goals scored against us today, which is good for their confidence. I am happy for the players,” he said.

Solomon Islands coach Jacob Moli analysed his team’s result and reflected on what made the difference in the game today.

“It is a very disappointing result for us. In football when you have a chance you have to put it away. When you put these chances away the confidence of the team grows. It is what made a difference today.”

It was an intense game that saw seven players cautioned, three for Tahiti and four for Solomon Islands. Tahiti finished the game keeping their remarkable clean sheet, having scored 27 goals and conceded none so far in the competition but are set to face Vanuatu in two days, who have themselves scored 24 goals and only conceded one goal so far.

The second match of the day in Group B saw a tight game between Tonga and co-hosts American Samoa, both sides vying to earn their first points in the competition. The result was an exciting display of football between the two teams.

The match opened with chances to both teams, a corner in the first minute to Tonga and a free kick a minute later to American Samoa that was cleared by defender Kilifitoni Vea. But the real excitement came when local favourite American Samoa goal keeper Kinikinilau Pouli had his first touch of the game in the fourth minute, catching the ball and earning a roar of support from his home crowd.

The support spurred on the co-hosts and Tokilupe Afu found himself in a goal scoring position, only for his shot to just go over the crossbar. A free kick moments later went long and towards goal but American Samoa were called offside before any damage could be inflicted. Tord-Lawrence Mana'o also came close to opening the scoring, demonstrating some impressive on-field skills, but his shot was eventually deflected.

Tonga replied with two opportunities of their own, a cross that Sione Moeaki deflected away for a corner and a shot from Aisea Muli that was just off target.

Pouli was forced into action for much of the first half, pulling off a number of critical saves to keep his side in the game. Tongan striker Soakai Vea caused Pouli some angst as the two clashed repeatedly, Pouli eventually earning himself a yellow card in the 38th minute for his efforts. But his heroic saves kept the score level at 0-0 going into the half-time break.

Vea came into the second half again making trouble for Pouli, who was forced into making two great saves in the opening minutes from shots by the striker, as well as parrying away a corner delivered by Lachman Atoa.

American Samoa had their own chances, forcing Tongan goal keeper Mahe Malafu to make two great saves from strikes by Zachary Mana'o and Joseph Purcell, who had a great opportunity to score but he pushed the ball too far and into Malafu’s hands.

American Samoa rued their missed earlier opportunities when Muli opened the scoring for Tonga in the 75th minute of the game to give his team a 1-0 lead.

Pouli’s influence on the game was made evident after Soakai Vea was finally able to get the ball in the back of the net, past defender Moeaki who had donned the goal keeper gloves in the 88th minute after Pouli went off injured. The goal saw Tonga win the match 2-0.

Tongan coach Timote Moleni was pleased with his sides result.

“I am very happy with what the players did today. I have always encouraged the players to do their best. I know in American Samoa and Tonga the level is almost the same but I know the potential of our players. I am very happy for them,” he said.

Despite the result, American Samoa coach Uinifareti Aliva was positive of the attitude of his players, some of the youngest in the tournament.

“It was a tough game. I would like to thank the players who did their best today.

“I think the players did play well, they have improved a lot from the last few games.”

The final round for Group B is Match Day 10, taking place in Pago Pago, American Samoa on Wednesday 21 January. Solomon Islands take on American Samoa at 1pm, and Tahiti play Vanuatu in the later game of 3.30pm in a critical match to decide who will take the top spot for Group B going into the semi-final on Saturday 24 January.

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