The results from the opening day of Group B action at the OFC U-16 Championship were the polar opposite of those in Group A, and the narrow differences between the four teams is expected to continue.
Fiji proved themselves a determined bunch with their come-from-behind victory over Samoa, while their next opponent Tahiti also had their work cut out for them against a lively New Caledonia.
While Samoa and New Caledonia both registered opening losses, they weren’t too far off the money with impressive performances keeping their opponents on their toes.
The opening match sees the two first round winners taking each other on and like in Group A, there’s the potential for one side to cement their place in the top two if they can get a win from this encounter.
The Fijians weren’t given an easy run of things against the Qualifier winners Samoa who ran out to a two goal lead within the first 20 minutes of the match.
However strong resolve and a desire to show what they are capable of meant the side were able to get themselves back in the game, and eventually take the lead and three important points.
Coach Yogendra Dutt is aware of the qualities of Tahiti side they’re about to face but remains confident his team can pull through once again.
“We know that all the teams will be tough out here, it’s not easy in the pool play,” Dutt said.
“Next up is Tahiti and we will try to see what we can play against them, and then we will prepare accordingly.”
After holding off a late charge in their own match, Tahiti will be keen to avoid letting their opponent get close again.
“It’s important for us to try and achieve first place in the group,” Hermann Aurentz said.
“We will have two days to rest, recover and prepare for the next match against Fiji, we can’t just sit on this one win we have to keep going.”
The second encounter will be an equally exciting encounter with two sides keen to put their opening day defeats behind them.
Samoa very nearly caused an upset when captain Lotial Mano scored two goals inside the first 20 minutes.
It’s a lead they held into the second half and looked like they would continue to hold but for tiring bodies to betray them.
Fiji managed to find a winner in the 79th minute and despite their best efforts Samoa just didn’t have enough for one final push.
Knowing they face another tough opponent, Samoa coach Martin Tamasese hopes that the past couple of days have been enough recovery time for the squad.
“It will be a tough match for us,” he said, “but we still have confidence we can do better at these second stage qualifiers.
“We really want to stay for the semi-finals so that’s what we’re aiming for.”
New Caledonia, who finished runners-up in this competition in 2017, know that this match, and the final one in the group, are crucial for their chances of staying in contention for a semi-final spot.
But they also know that it won’t be easy, and that they’ve made the task harder for themselves after receiving two red cards during the game with Tahiti.
However coach Leon Waitronyie said the whole squad has something they can contribute, and now some will be contributing perhaps a little more than originally expected.
“We came with 20 players and those 20 players are the best in their age category in the country,” Waitronyie said.
“We’ll have a team which can try and win in the coming matches because we need to win against Samoa, and then win against Fiji.
“I think against Samoa we need to go out and attack from the start. We saw in their match against Fiji that physically they were starting to struggle so I think it’s best to get something early and then try to kill off the match at the end.”
Fiji vs. Tahiti
Thursday 13 September
Lawson Tama Stadium
Honiara, Solomon Islands
KO: 10:00 local (10h NCL / 11 FIJ / 12h SAM / Wednesday 12 September 13h TAH)