VANUATU have their first points in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup Qualifier after securing a 1-0 victory over American Samoa on Match Day 2 of the tournament being held at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji.
Meanwhile Fiji and Solomon Islands proved inseparable as they played out a nil-all draw in the day’s second encounter meaning they are forced to continue sharing top spot in the standings, with Fiji goal difference giving them a slight advantage.
Both Vanuatu and American Samoa were chasing victory on Match Day 2 of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup Qualifier after the pair fell short in their opening encounters.
However with two competitive, driven sides going up against each other it was never going to be a straightforward showdown as the next 90 minutes showcased.
Possession-wise Vanuatu seemed to have the upper hand and certainly in terms of shots on goals the Melanesian side led by George Kalo were keeping their opponent’s goalkeeper Manaia Siania-Unutoa much busier than their own custodian Cloe Tate was.
That’s not to say the American Samoan’s didn’t have their chances. There were several occasions when they broke past the backline and threatened 1v1 with Tate, however were either snapped for offside or failed to be as lethal as they needed to be in front of goal.
Inevitably, failing to convert their chances came back to haunt the American Samoa side as Vanuatu took the lead in the 44th minute after a set piece was whipped in at the back post for Melissa Wakaret to head home.
Vanuatu spirits were lifted by the goal and they played out the final moments of the first half with a lot of energy, which they brought with them when they returned from the break.
But they weren’t the only ones.
Determined not to lose a second straight match, American Samoa fought hard to not only keep themselves in the match but to try and find a goal which would help them secure at least a deserved point.
Unfortunately the front line continued to fire off-target while Vanuatu started to establish a comfortable rhythm whenever they found themselves in possession making it tough for their opponents to impose their game.
It also meant Vanuatu found themselves in control for much of the second half allowing them to deny American Samoa a much desired comeback.
After a poor performance from his side in their opening match Vanuatu coach George Kalo said it was a much better from his charges – although there remains room for further improvement still.
“I think we’ve won this game, but we should have done better,” he said.
“American Samoa did well and we thank them for the game, they had some good opportunities to score.
“We really should have scored more than one ourselves, but it’s the game, that’s football.”
American Samoa coach Larry Mana’o also praised his side for an improved performance of their own on Match Day 2 of the competition.
“I’m super proud of the girls and that they tried to give 100 per cent effort throughout the whole of the game, so I’m very proud of them,” Mana’o said.
“I’m just disappointed with our conversions.
“We had a lot of opportunities, a lot of chnaces, but just didn’t have enough to get it into the net,” Mana’o continued.
“If you want any kind of result, a win or a draw, you have to score goals. It’s unfortunate. We tried some different things today, some different players, but once again we fall short.”
The second encounter of the day saw hosts Fiji take on Solomon Islands in a clash which could have seen one of those two teams take a clear lead in the standings.
However with both knowing what is at stake in this competition, they came out determined to play the best football possible which meant strong defending.
That left little opportunity for the attacking side of the game for either side.
That’s not to say they weren’t without their chances.
Cema Nasau, Luisa Tamanitoakula and Trina Davis looked as threatening today as they did in their opening match against Vanuatu, however Margaret Kofela and her backline were more than up to the challenge.
At the other end Ileen Pegi and laydah Samani once again led the Solomon Islands offensive efforts but like their opponents, couldn’t find a way to break down that final line.
After playing out the first 45 minutes scoreless, there remained the whole of the second half for one of the side’s to gain an advantage.
On the stroke of the hour, Solomon Islands created a wonderful opportunity when Imelda Tehekeni sent the ball over the backline for Crystal Bakalo to give chase. The veteran striker controlled the ball down well pulling it back for an arriving Laydah Samani who left the woodwork shuddering with her powerful strike.
That chance signalled a lift in intenstity from the Fijians who realised how close they had come to falling behind, and they launched a wave of attacks on the Solomon Islands goal which had Margaret Kofela working overtime to keep out of her goal.
As the clock counted down Fiji continued to put pressure on the Solomon Islanders however were unable to find a much coveted goal.
Fiji’s Marika Rodu said the approach from Solomon Islands was well thought through and well executed.
“They were a team that had a deep block, deep into their territory, which was hard to break down,” Rodu explained.
“We worked on few ways to try and break this stubborn defence but we were not technical enough to keep the ball and move this defensive block out of the way.
“It was expected to be a tough game, Solomons would have watched our game against Vanuatu and they’ve drawn up a very tough game plan, then they were very disciplined in executing it so hats off to them.”
Although Fiji sought a win and three points to secure their place at the top of the standings, Rodu said despite that not being the case today he remains optimistic of their chances.
However with that optimism also comes the need to continue tidying things up on the field.
“We need to be more patient with the ball. We lost possession because we forced the game too much. We need to maintain good organisation at the same time.”
Taking a point from the match was a heartening result for Solomon Islands coach Diane Justus who admitted that Fiji were a stronger side.
“The result is satisfactory for us because we knew this Fijian side was a better side than us, they had the advantage of more supporters here but we managed to get over that challenge,” she said.
“I’m very excited because our girls did what we planned to do, even though we knew it was not going to be easy.
“Everybody just gave more than 100 per cent and it worked so we’re excited to still be in the running to qualify.”
Fiji and Solomon Islands remain locked on four points each, with Vanuatu just a point behind them with three making Thursday’s final match day a crucial one for the three sides.