American Samoa beat the Cook Islands 3-1 on the final Match Day of the OFC U-16 Championship Qualifier thanks to a pair of PKs, and a great finishing goal by the youngest player on the field.
Xavior Leatualevao, only 14 years old, came on in the 81st minute for Peter Lauvao, and four minutes later, with American Samoa holding on to a slim 2-1 lead, volleyed a cross from Vaha Tua at the back post to create pandemonium on the field for the territory’s team.
“I was surprised when I saw the ball coming to me,” Leatualevao recalled. “My only thought then was to kick it inside.”
Samoa completed a clean sweep of the tournament with a 9-0 win over Tonga in the second game of the day on Friday, July 20, 2018 at Loto-Tonga Soka Centre in Veitongo, Tonga, to officially qualify for the second stage next month. With the loss by Tonga, American Samoa officially ends the tournament on two high notes, a win and a second-place finish in the tournament.
“It’s a good win for us, especially it was the last game of the tournament,” said the team’s coach, Rupeni Luvu. “Cook Islands had a good team, but I am glad our boys came through for us with the win.”
Falling back to the 4-4-2 formation, American Samoa was able to have more control in the midfield, especially with quality play from the team’s captain, Gabriel Taumua, and Milo Tiatia. They were exceptional in the midfield, while central defenders Walter Pati and Peni Collins locked down the back with great support from Fusi Malani.
Hengihengi Ikuvalu, starting in front of the net, was also solid for American Samoa, but Collins and Tiatia were the stars of the game.
The first three goals of the game were all penalty kicks, one coming in the first half and the other two in the second.
Taumua slotted in the first PK in the 31st minute after the Cook Islands were called for a handball inside the box.
In the second half, the Cook Islands equalized in the 50th minute after American Samoa was called for a foul inside the penalty area. Toru Mateariki converted the PK for the Cook Islands.
In the 67th minute, Peter Lauvao gave American Samoa the go-ahead goal after converting a penalty kick that resulted from a Cook Islands handball inside their penalty area.
On Leatualevao’s goal, James Settle pounced on a ball that was headed away by a Cook Islands defender. Settle sent a through ball against the same defender, and he tried to shield Tua from the ball as it headed towards the goal line. Instead Tua slipped by his opponent and dribbled the ball along the goal line, then sent the cross that Leatualevao volleyed in for the game’s final goal.
“I saw Xavior running forward, and also saw the goalie move backwards to his goal,” Tua explained on his cross. “There was another defender standing there, but I saw a gap between him and the goalie, so I just crossed it through that gap to Xavior.”
“It was a pretty tough game, but I thank our boys for giving their best and faamalolosi during the game,” said the team’s captain, Gabriel Taumua, in an interview with OFC Media. “Our sub (Leatualevao) is the smallest on our eam and we’re very proud of him. We started strong and we finished strong.”