The hosts beat Vanuatu 5-2 while Papua New Guinea cruised past Samoa 7-2 to give themselves every chance of making next Wednesday’s final. It also sets up a mouth-watering clash between the two heavyweights on Saturday while Samoa and Vanuatu will meet in the second match on day two.
Local star Piuinga Feke stole the show in the opening game bagging the first hat-trick of the tournament, a feat Tongan coach Lui Muavesi claims was a premonition.
“I told her last night that she was going to score more than two,” said Muavesi, who was in high spirits after the match.
“It’s good to see Piuinga is still at the top of her game, but I was also impressed with Kiana Mu’amoholeva who is usually a defender but was playing striker for the first time. She is only 18 but I think if you give her a couple of years she will be a top player.”
Tonga scored two goals in the first half and were cruising after an hour when Feke converted her third one-on-one opportunity to give the home side a five goal advantage.
Vanuatu looked vulnerable trying to keep a high back-line and were out-muscled all over the pitch but, to their credit, scored two late goals through some clever counter-attacking football.
Serah Thompson scored their first on 62 minutes before standout left-midfielder Joella Avock tapped home Elodie Samuel’s cross in injury time to bring some respectability to the score line.
Vanuatu coach Florian Sam says he is already looking ahead to the next match.
“It gives us an idea of where we need to improve and I think this was a good test ahead of our next match against Samoa because they will play a similar high contact game.”
In the second match of the day, Papua New Guinea looked like they would have an easy time of it when Fatima Rama and Linah Honeakii had both scored inside 12 minutes.
But Samoa pulled one back in their first real attack of the game when Lanuola Mulipola broke through the defense and slotted the ball past Linda Bunaga in the 19th minute.
Two late first first half to Honeakii and Rumona Morris could have broken the Samoans but once again they showed spirit to claw their way back to 4-2 through Tamasailau Leuta with 20 minutes to play.
In the end they couldn’t hold on against the favourites as Daisy Winas found the back of the net after 86 minutes before Sandra Birum scored a quick-fire double.
Samoa coach Tala Salamasina paid full credit to their opposition.
“They were a far better team on the day but we gave them a fright at 2-1 in the first half,” says Salamasina.
“We let ourselves down by conceding late goals in both halves but that comes down to experience and fitness. This is our first international since 2007 so when you take that into account, I’m proud of the players today.”
Papua New Guinea coach Steven Mune was subdued after the match despite the favourable scoreline.
“I think we played well at times but not for the entire match. There are definitely still things to work on.”
His side will square off against Tonga at 1:00pm on Saturday before Samoa and Vanuatu meet at 3:30pm.
The winner of the tournament will advance to the Stage 2 home-and-away play-of against New Zealand on 31 March and 4 April.
See attached for the match summaries.
Tonga vs. Papua New Guinea
1:00pm Saturday 3 March
Samoa vs. Vanuatu
3:30pm Saturday 3 March