2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

2018 FIFA World Cup™ 

History-making Cook Islands and Samoa open brightly

Tonga (red) and Cook Islands players compete for the ball in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualifier in Nuku’Alofa, 31 August 2015 (Credit Shane Wenzlick/OFC)
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Oceania’s lengthy 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ campaign is underway, with Samoa and Cook Islands opening with wins over American Samoa and hosts Tonga respectively in the four-nation Stage 1 matches.

The latter result was particularly notable as Cook Islands secured a maiden FIFA World Cup victory in their sixth campaign. Cook Islands turned in a confident display to score three times in a 22-minute period either side of the half-time break, with Taylor Saghabi netting all three goals to become the scorer of his nation’s first World Cup hat-trick.

It could have been even more pain for Tonga as Paavo Mustonen cracked a free-kick against the woodwork just after half-time. But despite Cook Islands’ impressive showing, Tonga were unlucky not to at least secure a consolation goal at Nuku’Alofa’s palm-tree lined Loto-Tonga Soka Centre.

The well-organised Cook Islands were a constant threat from set-pieces, while Tonga captain Mark Uhatahi spurned the home side’s best opening in the latter stages with only the keeper to beat.

The match was also a milestone moment for Tonga, who played their first home FIFA World Cup match for 19 years, and the first at their Goal Programme-funded home of football since its opening in 2001.

* Samoan derby*
The second match proved a lively and spirited contest with a real derby feel as two neighbours shaped up. 

The pair had fought out a tight final-day battle for first spot four years ago, but the early stages of this contest looked mismatched with American Samoa struggling to settle. Samoa raced to a 3-0 lead, but were forced to survive a tense finale as American Samoa pulled back to 3-2 on the back of a Demetrius Beauchamp double.

Evergreen Samoa star attacker Desmond Faaiuaso scored after just four minutes, while defender Faitalia Hamilton-Pama soon netted with a header to double the advantage. It was three almost immediately as Andrew Mobberley coolly slotted home, after a pacy run from Faaiuaso.

It could easily have been four on several occasions, but instead tall forward Beauchamp pulled a goal back before the break. And the contest swung further in the direction of American Samoa soon after the interval with Samoa’s Lapalapa Toni sent off for a foul.

Beauchamp set up a chaotic and tense finale with his second of the match four minutes from the end, as the USA-based frontman craftily netted. “If I had two halves like the second then I think the game would have been a lot closer,” said American Samoa coach Larry Mana’o. “My expectations were met in the second half, not the first.”

Wednesday’s second matchday could go a long way towards deciding the identity of the group winner and passage to Stage 2, with Cook Islands to meet Samoa.

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