Fijians and Tongans needed to overcome the rain and wet pitch in Suva in the final match of the group stage of the U-17 OFC Championship. The Fijians were expected a massive victory over the minnows, but the weather was a fierce rival for the local side. Due to the rain, the match needed to be postponed – starting 45 minutes later than previously scheduled.
The Fijians took an early lead after a defensive blunder from the Tongan defence. Jacob Seninawanwana was gifted the ball inside the penalty box – just one touch was needed to put it back of the net to confirm the lead at the 8th minute.
Fiji continued to press up top, while Tonga proved to be a threat with the pace of its strikers in counter-attacks. The young talented Ibraheem Afazal tried a long-range finished that went close to the crossbar.
The wet surface made the game turn into a physical battle; the Tonga defence led by the captain Sione Talia’uli managed to deal well with Fijian attack – making a number of strong tackles and keeping the ball away from their penalty box.
A moment that could be a turning point into the game happend already in the final minutes of the first half: Sailimone Ravonokula received a second yellow-card after get involved in a brawl close to the corner flag. This was the first red card shown in the entire competition.
With the start of the second half, the heavy rain also followed it. What could be a chance for the Tongan team to make an upset rapidly turned into ashes: the Australian-based Ibraheem Afazal received a beautiful through pass from Waitisoni Batirerega – that came in as substitute at the halftime – and placed it well at the bottom right corner of the goalkeeper Siosuia Moimoi.
The wet pitch, the inability to exchange passes and the tiredness of both teams not allowed much more goalscoring chances to be created. The second half was marked by a number of late challenges, commited fouls and yellow cards for both sides.
When the game was already close to its final whistle, Waitisoni Batirerega managed to give another assist; this time his cross found Prashant Kumar in the box that headed it home to score Fiji’s third goal in the clash. The final score ended up in favour of the Fijians: 3-0.
Despite losing, Tonga also proceeded to the quarterfinals of the tournament: according to the draw realised by OFC, they will meet Tahiti in the next stage; Fiji takes on the Cook Islands.