A slice of Oceania football history was created as Tonga and Samoa fought out a tense 1-all draw on the final Match Day of the 2018 OFC U-19 Championship Qualifier tournament hosted by Cook Islands.
When New Zealand referee Cory Mills blew his whistle for full time emotional scenes have unfolded with Tongan players and officials marking a significant milestone in their football history.
There is nothing surprising about this Tongan team’s success especially since coach Soane Mailangi insisted from the outset that his side had a clear vision and determination to create history by becoming the first ever national team from the proud Pacific nation to win a Qualifier tournament.
By delivering on his promise the U-19 Tonga team will travel to Tahiti in August to compete in their maiden OFC U-19 Championship tournament.
It’s a major achievement by Mailangi’s players who looked to be on the verge of another disappointing campaign with less than 25 minutes remaining in their fiercely contested match against their Samoan rivals.
Knowing that a draw was enough because of their superior goal difference Tonga went into match as slight favourites before the pendulum swung as the impressive Samuelu Malo gave Samoa the lead with a powerful long range free kick after just eight minutes.
Very little separated the two sides with chances at both ends in the remainder of the first half.
Tonga came out with intent after the break while Samoa looked to be content to slow the pace of the game and rely on counter attacks.
As the chances were drying up Mailangi brought on Tuia Falepapalangi to replace Viliami Tukia in the 54th minute.
The move paid off as the Tongan number 7 hit the target just 12 minutes later with a spectacular long range drive.
The team in red kept their cool for the rest of the match to hold firm and repel Samoan ambitions.
Following the final whistle an emotional Soane Mailangi couldn’t hide his delight.
“This is the moment we have been waiting for, just like I said before, this is history, the first time for Tonga to go through.
“This U-19 age group, we have put them through a good pathway, we trusted them and today we are the team that came top of this tournament,” the Tonga coach explained.
“I’m proud of the team, proud of our technical director for his technical advice for us, this is the moment that we have been waiting for.
Although Tonga was unable to defeat Samoa, Mailangi said his side did exactly what it needed to win the tournament.
“For me a game is a game and it doesn’t matter if you win by miles or win by an inch, both is winning and today we came out on top.”
The Tonga coach believes his troops will be ready for the next challenge in Tahiti.
“Even before we left Tonga to qualify for Tahiti was in us, we worked on it and now it became a reality for us, we go to the next stage in Tahiti and we will play New Zealand, Tahiti and Papua New Guinea and I know these boys can get some more good results for Tonga,” the Tonga coach insisted.
Exiting the tournament was a bitter pill to swallow for a Samoa team which didn’t lose a game and only conceded a single goal, but despite the disappointment coach Valerio Raccuglia was not looking for excuses.
“Credit to Tonga, they never stopped and obviously they got a goal after which we couldn’t create chances to get the game back on track, but they deserve it they have done better than us.”
Raccuglia’s believes his side’s inability to finish their chances throughout the entire tournament is what ultimately cost them.
“We have missed a couple of chances and we should have been further ahead and I keep repeating the same thing, every goal is going to count and as you can see we go out because we scored one goal less than them,” the Samoa coach lamented.
“Obviously we are disappointed we came here to win and just didn’t happen, and we only have us to blame for because we had the chances to do and we didn’t, that’s football.”