Oceania: Cook Islands through to Under-17 tournament proper
It’s been a pretty intense few days in the preliminary round of Oceania’s Under-17 Football Championship and there has been no shortage of goals in what’s been a very open tournament. Emerging victorious are the Cook Islands whose 2-1 win over host nation Samoa in the last round of matches played today in the Samoan capital city of Apia has won them through to the next stage.
Twenty eight goals were scored in the six games to have been played since Tuesday, an average of just over four and a half a game, and all of them have added to a fascinating competition in which drama was in no short supply. Cook Islands got their tournament off to the best possible start on Tuesday when defeating Tonga 7-1 with six different players getting on the score sheet, Maro Bonsu-Maro being the only player to score two goals. In the derby match, Samoa and American Samoa shared the spoils with a 2-2 draw to leave the Cook Islanders topping the table after matchday one. Things suddenly changed on matchday two when the Cook Islands were overtaken at the top by American Samoa. The latter defeated the former 3-0 with Sinisi Tua bagging a brace. Samoa got the better of Tonga, winning by the odd goal in five with Paulo Scanlan’s hat-trick proving crucial in Samoa’s 3-2 win.
Going into today’s final round of matches three teams – Samoa, American Samoa and Cook Islands – all had the chance to claim the trophy. Tonga, up until now the whipping boys of the group, were in no position to gift their opponents American Samoa the title. American Samoa seemed to be coasting their way to victory when going 2-0 ahead after 48 minutes thanks to goals from Paia Ipiniu and Sinisa Tua but the Tongans were to end up shocking their opponents by turning the match around with three goals in the last nineteen minutes. Uasi Talanoa, Hemaloto Polovili and Taniela Vaka’uta, whose goal came deep into stoppage time, claimed Tonga’s first win of the tournament and opened the door for Samoa and Cook Islands to claim the title in the other match.
In another topsy-turvy encounter it was Samoa who took the lead after 23 minutes thanks to Sue Pelesa, an advantage they would see through to half-time. Fifteen minutes into the second half saw the Cook Islands restore parity, Takuina Tararo heading home the equalizer, but they had to wait until four minutes from full-time before they were to score the crucial goal which would eventually clinch the championship. Step forward Dwayne Tiputoa whose late charge saw him slot the ball home and break the hearts of Samoa, for whom a draw would’ve been enough to give them the title following American Samoa’s surprise defeat.
Cook Islands topped the table with six points from three games, both American Samoa and Samoa have four points with the former holding on to second place on goal difference whilst Tonga prop up the rest with three points. The Cook Islands can now prepare for the tournament proper of the OFC under-17 Championship where they face off against seven other nations including the likes of New Zealand, Solomon Islands and hosts Vanuatu from April 17th-27th. The winner of that can then look forward to representing Oceania on the world stage when the FIFA Under-17 World Cup takes place in the United Arab Emirates between October 17th-November 8th.