Samoa and Tonga have played out a 1-1 draw on day two of the Oceania Round One 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifiers in Apia, setting up a winner-take-all match between the hosts and American Samoa on Saturday (Sunday GMT).
Samoa’s marginally superior goal difference means they just require a draw from the match to stay top of the section and progress to next June’s Round Two in Fiji alongside the seven remaining Oceania nations.
The earlier match between American Samoa and Cook Islands was also a 1-1 draw. Today’s two results means the end of the road for both the Cook Islands and Tonga.
The latter match saw hosts Samoa denied by a Tonga equaliser nine minutes from full time scored by Lokoua Taufahema, who headed a loose ball home just seconds after coming off the bench.
A solid defensive display from Tonga against their traditional rivals frustrated the home side for the majority of the first half, but Samoa finally broke through just before the break after Folio Moeaki brought down Desmond Fa’aiuaso in the penalty area.
Midfield playmaker Shaun Easthope gave goalkeeper Kaneti Felela no chance with his spot kick, to the delight of the hundreds of locals who had descended on the J.S. Blatter Field in the capital.
“They put up a good fight to get back into the game and managed to score the equaliser,” said Samoa coach Tunoa Lui. “I thought our boys worked really hard and we did everything we could.”
Tonga coach Chris Williams was delighted at the way his charges bounced back from the opening day defeat to American Samoa.
“I’m really proud of the boys after what happened two days ago,” he said. “We were playing probably the best team in the tournament today and responded very well.”
Having never claimed a point before in their 12 previous FIFA World Cup qualifiers, American Samoa now go into Saturday’s match on the back of a win and a draw in optimistic mood, having improved significantly under new coach; former USA U-20 mentor Thomas Rongen.
“Our game plan was to win but the draw has gotten us to four points and puts us into a position on Saturday to play for a championship,” Rongen said.
“I think we should have put the game away in the first half and scored two or three with the chances we had. We made it very hard for ourselves again but we got the result we needed to make the game against Samoa, who I consider the best team, a meaningful contest. It’s going to be great – Samoa and American Samoa is like a dream match-up.”