Tonga set local hearts aflutter with a stunning comeback against American Samoa to equalize the score, 2 all to live their campaign alive.
Tonga team stayed away from their game plan in the first half and the credit should go to the goalkeeper, Viliami Lui who had made several impressive saves. In the second half the Tongans played pretty different.
American Samoa team played very much strategically and also they used their experience to fire their first goal, followed their second goal by their team captain. Perhaps American Samoa felt a two goal lead was comfortable enough, or perhaps Tonga needed to be behind to kick them into gear but the home side started to find their feet which resulted in much quicker counter attacks and more pressure from up front.
They were rewarded for their perseverance in the 58th minute when Henry Tuiono pounced on a fumble from Antonio Nauer, poking it home for Tonga’s first goal of the tournament. That ignited the Tongan side and had American Samoa scrambling, so much so that when a shot came in on target a momentary lapse in judgement from Joseph Collins who blocked with his arm, saw him sent off and Tonga awarded a penalty.
Captain Joseph Muavesi stepped up for his side and fired past Nauer to pull Tonga level. American Samoa looked broken as cramp started affecting the players while Tonga only seemed to grow in stature with the home crowd right behind them.
Tonga brought a good fight in the last fifteen minutes of their game.
An emotional Tonga coach Lafaele Moala was delighted his side were able to find their way back into the encounter, dedicating the draw to the late Emmie Sope, OFC Just Play Programme Manager, whose work in the region included introducing a number of the Tongan U-16 squad to football.
“In the first half I think the boys didn’t stick to the game plan and it was also the first time for them to play an international. You saw in the second half they came back and I was excited about the way the game went,” he said.
“Today’s game, I told them it was for Emmie,” Moala said.
“And I know that’s why they played really hard because without Emmie, they might not be representing our country. I think the feeling in them, that’s why they did their best and didn’t want to back down. They never gave up.
“That’s the secret about today’s game – it was for Emmie.”’
Tonga will face the Cook Islands team for the match day 2, and their last game will be against Samoa.