Fiji secured their place in the OFC U-16 Championship semi-finals with a 1-0 victory over New Caledonia, joining Group B leaders Tahiti who also notched up a win in their final group game beating Samoa 5-1.
Going into the opening match, Fiji knew a win or a draw would take them through to the semi-final play-off, but for New Caledonia only a win would do and they came up short against a determined Fiji side.
“From the beginning we anticipated that it would be a tough game because it was important for New Caledonia, as well as us and it turned out to be a very tough match, said Fiji coach Yogendra Dutt.
“We knew they would come out fighting because their loves attacking so we came to this game prepared.
“After this game we will get back together and talk about what needs to be improved in our next match.”
With his side out of the running for a place in semi-finals, New Caledonia coach Leon Waitronyie was somewhat lost for words at the full-time whistle.
“I think that we have a lot we can regret, we were in a pool which we should have come through, Waitronyie said.
“We needed a bit of luck, in this tournament, but it never came.
“It’s now up to the boys to remain motivated, concentrate because their careers start now and for the future, all we can say is they won’t stop here.”
The lone goal of the match came from Eshan Kumar in the 45thminute after keeper Raumuald Dalmas blocked an initial shot, but couldn’t keep out the close range follow-up from Kumar.
It was an unplanned start to the match for Tahiti who went behind in just the second minute of the match after Samoa’s Jarvis Filimalae combined with Falaniko Nanumea to slot in the opener.
Tahiti responded by pressing almost immediately into their opponent’s final third but Semu Faimata was in-form to deny a decent effort from Ariiura Labaste before Samoa were back up the other end trying for a second.
However Tahiti were soon back in the match when Samoa failed to clear a set piece and Heihau Hanere was able to poke the ball in between the keeper and the post.
Nanumea was again at the centre of the action for Samoa as he combined with captain Lotial Mano as they went in search of a second goal however when they finally put it in the back of the net in the 24thminute it was disallowed for offside.
The back and forth continued with Tahiti slowly gaining more possession, and creating more chances as the started to dominate the midfield until eventually they got the break they were looking for.
Heading into additional time Tehotu Gitton’s trailing foot was caught by Kawasaki Saofaiga as the attacker rounded him in the penalty area and the referee Joel Hopken had no choice but to point to the penalty spot.
Ariiura Labaste stepped up to take and fired home the goal which put his side in the lead for the first time in the match. Gitton wasn’t about to let the half end without putting his name on the scoreboard and in the final seconds of the half latched onto a loose ball in the box to poke Tahiti through to a 3-1 lead at the break.
Tahiti continued their goal scoring exploits in the second half with Labaste collecting his brace in the 50thminute before Gitton also added his second.
The fifth goal was the beginning of the end for Samoa as it marked the beginning of a five-minute period which saw goal scorer Filimalae cautioned twice, and sent to sheds.
Four minutes after that and Tahiti lost a talented young player in Denji Kaiha who received a direct red card which realigned the teams numerically. However, by this point Samoa had completely lost their composure, committing fouls all over the park, even off-the-ball, as they tried to unsettle their opponent.
Martin Tamasese’s side picked up a further three yellow cards in the last 10 minutes of the match to take their tally of cautions across the 90 minutes to eight.
Tahiti coach Hermann Aurentz was pleased to get a third victory to cement them place at the top of Group B ahead of the semi-finals, but was disappointed by the manner in which the match ended.
“The objective we were focused on was to get these final three points, even knowing that we had already qualified, in order to get the first place but also for the confidence boost for the team and for the players who hadn’t played in the first two matches.
“What we saw from those who played today is that we can be confident in them,” he said.
“The red card our player received was deplorable, not fairplay at all, and Samoa has a coach and it’s up to him to calm the players down.”
Samoa coach Martin Tamasese said the start from his side was good, but his side lost confidence and that was the end of it.
“I’d like to thank Tahiti for the great game today. It’s the final game for us, so we’ll head home and develop football some more,” he said.
“The last two games we had the boys did really well, especially the last one. Today we came here wanting to win and put in a good battle against Tahiti. Some stuff came through and we lost our confidence and focus.
Tahiti will now play New Zealand, runners-up in Group A, in one semi-final while Fiji will meet the Group A winners Solomon Islands in the other.