16 Apr 2024

Oceania football: Vanutau claims top spot at U19 tourney

2:48 pm on 16 April 2024
Vanuatu looked slick when they employed their short passing game.

Vanuatu looked slick when they employed their short passing game. Photo: Vanuatu Football Federation

Vanuatu has qualified for the OFC Under-19 Men's Championship 2024 in July following their 2-0 win over the Cook Islands at the VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila on Monday.

The hosts had defeated Tonga and American Samoa earlier in the qualifying event over the past two weeks.

The visitors were reduced to 10 men when midfielder Shane Tuteru copped two yellow cards for foul play, which saw him marched off in the 40th minute.

Tonga finished the three-round tournament with a win, pipping American Samoa 4-3 in their final game.

Having claimed a draw against the Cook Islands and a loss to Vanuatu, the Tongans wanted a win to complete their campaign.

Coach Lui Muavesi said he was happy for the team, especially for being resilient to claim a win.

OFC said the final match of the three-round qualifying tournament had become a veritable grand final with Vanuatu and the Cook Islands both unbeaten heading into their third match - the home nation with two emphatic wins and the visitors with a win and a draw.

The Cook Islands - needing a win to progress - started strongly, enjoying territorial dominance in the opening salvos despite playing into a brisk wind.

But they failed to utilise their height advantage, twice aiming relatively long-range free kicks at the goal rather than heads.

Vanuatu looked slick when they employed their short passing game, but the Cooks maintained their shape and made it difficult to weave through the traffic, especially as they were robust in challenges - conceding two yellow cards in the first 26 minutes.

In the end, the host proved too strong and took the game plus the July spot to face the best of the region in Samoa.

Tonga wins last game

Coach Musavesi said Tonga were unlucky at the event.

They had drawn the Cooks in their first game and held Vanuatu to a nil-all draw at halftime in their second game.

But they lost the game in the end.

Coach Muavesi said he was happy with the end result, adding the loss to Vanuatu was 'just unlucky'.

"Happy with the team because they came back strong in the last game," he said.

"If we had won against Vanuatu we could have been the winner of the event but still happy."

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.

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.