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American Samoa U-17 team returns

American Samoa’s team returned from the OFC Men’s U-17 Championship 2011 in New Zealand safe and sound on Monday, January 17, 2011.
The team of 20 players returned with their coach Ruben Luvu and physio Lua’ao Wasko after taking part in the two-week, 10-team tournament played at North Harbour Stadium.
FFAS President Iuli Alex Godinet, CEO Tavita Taumua, players parents and FFAS staff were on hand to welcome the team back with Rev. Mafutaga providing a brief prayer of thanks for their safe arrival.
“We are extremely happy that you all have arrived back safely,” Iuli said. “We are proud of you because you were not there to represent FFAS but American Samoa!”
The tournament ended this week with New Zealand edging Tahiti 2-0 to earn the right to head to Mexico later this year for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011.
American Samoa was pooled in what was referred to as the “Group of Death” as it included several of OFC’s top teams — New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
American Samoa lost all of its pools matches, falling to Fiji 9-0; Papua New Guinea 2-1; New Zealand 4-0 and Vanuatu 7-0.
Coach Luvu said despite the lopsided scores, he and his coaching staff were proud of the boys’ performance as he saw there was a big improvement with their play despite the lack of international experience.
“We did find out one big weakness and that was our fitness,” pointed out Luvu. “We did not have the fitness to stay aggressive during our matches.”
Luvu and most of the FFAS staff are proud of how the team played as they were competitive in the first halves of all their games and had a few opportunities gone their way in their match against Papua New Guinea, would have returned home with a W in their pockets.
“We played very well in the first half against Fiji,” explained Luvu. “We were very aggressive defensively, minimizing the space for them to move around in and I believe this game was our hardest because it was the first game and their first time playing in such an atmosphere.”
Luvu said in the second half they did not stick to their game plan and he blames that on their level of fitness. Going into the second period they were down 2-0.
“We went away from our game plan because we started to run out of gas,” Luvu said. “Once the Fijians used this they were able to finally utilize their speed against us.”
Ryan Petaia equalized the match 1-1 in the 22nd minute of the match and had the chance to lead in the 36th when Petaia was taken down in the penalty area. He was taken off briefly for an injury so Luvu called forth Shalom Luani to attempt the shot but he hit the crossbar.
“It was a game of missed opportunities for us,” Luvu recalled. “The big difference in this match was that we changed our formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 and this really worked for us well.”
It was a formation they would stick with for their remaining matches.
Eventual U-17 champion New Zealand was expected, in the minds of many FFAS members, to stomp upon A.S. by a huge margin but by the end of the first half they were only up 1-0.
“New Zealand was just too good because we spent most of the time defending,” Luvu explained. “In that first half we stuck with them defensively but again our fitness failed us in the second.”
“Nothing worked for us in this match,” Luvu said. “Our kids didn’t stick to our game plan, which was basically the same as the other games because we were giving them too much space.
“Our marking was not good in this match.”
At the end of the first half it was 2-0 for Vanuatu and the fitness level in the second again was a big factor in the five goals scored to make up the final tally.
“A lot of it was the fitness level,” Luvu said. “Our footwork was not all that great and I believe it’s because our players do not spend enough personal time to work on it themselves.”
With Luvu back on island FFAS will start training a men’s U-20 team this week for the OFC tournament around mid-April.
“We will definitely be working on their fitness to start off,” Luvu pointed out. “We already have a list of players to make up the squad and will start immediately.”
His team did win in New Zealand though, a 4-1 showing in a friendly match against Tonga. Tonga was in the other group with Solomon Islands, Tahiti, New Caledonia and Cook Islands.
“I think if we go at least a week early to try to get in some friendly games against tough opponents it would really help give our players a little more experience before the actual tournament starts,” Luvu opined. “But again that is only possible if we have the finances to do that because that would be a very expensive venture.
“However, I and our coaching staff are proud of the boys and I hope our U-20 squad will be able to do us proud as well.”

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