American Samoa drew 2-2 with Tonga in their first game of the OFC U16 Championship Qualifiers at Loto-Tonga Center in Veitongo, Tonga on Saturday, July 14, 2018.
It was a disappointing draw for American Samoa as they led 2-0, only to have Tonga come back and tie it in the last 11 minutes of the game. Those last 11 minutes were a nail biter for both teams as Tonga threatened to score against American Samoa’s 10-man squad.
They were reduced to 10 players after Peni Collins took matters into his own hands, literally, by denying a point-blank shot with his right arm. This was a double jeopardy moment for American Samoa as one of their players received a red card and Tonga was awarded a penalty kick that they converted for the draw in the 79th minute.
“It is a draw, so we can still work with this because we are not working from a loss,” American Samoa’s coach Rupeni Luvu said. “We’ve got to pick our heads up and prepare for the next game, unfortunately we will be without one of our key players, but we will adapt.”
Samoa is in the driver’s seat after beating the Cook Islands 3-0, and the two Samoa will be playing on the next game day, Tuesday, July 17.
“Samoa is going to be very tough, and we have a lot of things we need to improve on,” Luvu pointed out.
Scratching his normal 4-4-2 formation, Luvu switched it up to a 4-3-3 to have more players in attack, and also in defense. In the second half he moved Peter Lauvao from the middle of the field to the front to give his team a better attacking option up front, and it helped them create more scoring chances.
Lauvao made a deep run from midfield to the penalty box thanks to a give-and-go with Valaauina Vaieli, but his on-target shot was blocked by Tonga’s excellent goalie, Viliami Lui. The ball was cleared away from the box, and Milo Tiatia controlled it once, then launched a long shot that found the top corner of the far post in the 53rd minute.
Two minutes later, Tiatia made a great run down the middle, and a 1-2 pass with Lauvao had him in perfect position to attack into the penalty area, but while attempting a shot Tonga fouled him at the edge of the box. Gabriel Taumua curled a low shot to the right of the wall, and it snuck into the near post to give American Samoa a 2-0 lead.
In the 58th minute, Tonga scored after a cross went off of the fingertips of Antonio Nauer and into the waiting Henry Tuiono for the tap in goal.
Cramps started to take its hold on the American Samoa players, and they struggled to defend against a very determined Tonga. They did manage to hold on for the draw despite losing Tiatia to an injury and playing with only 10 on the field.
“When my players started cramping that became another big problem for us,” Luvu said. “I want to thank our supporters back home for all their prayers and best wishes for my team.”
The team has two days to recover before taking on Samoa on Tuesday, July 17 at 11 A.M. (Monday, July 16, 11 A.M., American Samoa date and time).