BY ROMULUS HUTA
FIJI squeezed past Samoa with a 3-2 defeat after overcoming an early scare that could have seen the final result ended up in an imaginable upset as Pool B competition of the OFC Under-16 Championship gets underway at Lawson Tama Stadium yesterday afternoon.
The Samoan side, which only arrived in Honiara two hours prior to kick-off, shocked the Fijians when they led 2-0 in the first 17 minutes via a double from Lotial Mano.
Mano capitalised on a rebound from the cross beam following a free kick sent from the left by Jarvis Filimalae in the eighth minute to put his side infront.
Nine minutes later Mano added the second with a screamer launched from outside the box.
Fiji regrouped following the two-goal deficit and managed to pull one back through Eshan Kumar a minute before the halftime, leaving the scoreline to go at 2-1 on the recess.
Three minutes after the hour mark, Fijian striker Josiah Sela found the equaliser with a simple tap in after receiving a pass on the left and 15 minutes later, he fired home the winner from the spot.
The late winner gave a sigh of relief to the Fijian side as expressed by head coach Yogendra Dutt in the post-match conference.
“We’re pleased to come out with a win and now we’re relieved after getting three points.
“We expected the match to be tough and it was tough.
“During halftime, I told the boys to keep the ball and progress forward to score goals and it happened in the second 45 minutes.
“We’ll review the performance from this match and discuss with other members of the coaching team if we are to make some changes to the line-up ahead of the second match,” Dutt said.
Dutt’s Samoan counterpart, Martin Tamasese admitted that they have lost a good fight against Fiji.
“There’s no excuse for the loss. We’re doing a really good fight against Fiji and unfortunately we lost it.
“I think the boys are really tired and we’re trying to hold on for a win or a draw but unfortunately, we lost to a good team.”
The Samoan team had experienced a problem with their arrival here where a part of the team arrived on Saturday while the rest of the team have just arrived two hours before the 12noon kick off.
Initially, the match was scheduled for 10am yesterday but had to be moved to 12noon due to the team’s late arrival.
“The weather played a bit part of our loss today because the rest of the team have just arrived 10 o’clock this morning (yesterday). It’s something to do with the delay in flight booking and that affected our performance.
“We’re just going to leave everything as it is and look forward to the next game. Atleast we feel the weather now so for our second game against New Caledonia, we will be looking for a good result,” Tamasese said.
The win pushed Fiji to go top of Pool B table and equal on three points with Tahiti, who defeated New Caledonia 2-1 in the other match.
The OFC Under-16 Championship will go on a break today and will resume for Pool A round two matches tomorrow morning with PNG and Vanuatu kicking things off in the earlier fixture while the 3pm game will be between host nation Solomon Islands and New Zealand.