Despite having their goalkeeper Madison Tenifa sent off five minutes into their first match at the Sol2023 Pacific Games women’s football tournament, Tonga managed to secure a 2-2 draw with Tahiti at Lawson Tama on Tuesday.
Following Tenifa’s dismissal for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, Tahiti took control of the first half with goals to Kiani Wong and Kohai Mai ensuring a 2-0 lead at the break.
But despite being down to 10 players, Tonga staged a remarkable comeback in the very last minute of the match, as Ana Polivili scored two goals in quick succession to force a draw.
Tonga coach Mark Bell expressed satisfaction with the draw, given how the match unfolded. “Finishing with a draw and with only ten players is a good result. We were trailing by two goals but I encouraged the girls to keep fighting and our efforts paid off with two goals, to earn one point.”
Tonga are yet to play their final pool match against Samoa, and a win would see them qualify for the knockout stages. However Tahiti, with only a draw and a loss (to Samoa) against their name, face a challenging road ahead.
“We took the lead but we failed to maintain the lead and extend the number of goals, and that is what cost us a win,” Tahiti Coach Martin Pautu said.
“Now we will have to wait for the remaining group matches and we’ll see where we go from there.”
In the day’s other women’s match, Fiji secured a hard-fought 3-2 victory against Vanuatu. Cema Nasau ignited the scoreboard with the opening goal 25 minutes in, setting the tone for Fiji’s offensive play.
Their momentum continued as Adi Litia Bakaniceva found the back of the net in the 33rd minute, extending Fiji’s lead to 2-0 at the break
Vanuatu’s fightback began in the 68th minute through Leimata Simon, before Emilia Taravaki added an equaliser. However, the match’s dramatic conclusion saw Fiji’s Luisa Tamanitoakula convert a penalty in added time, sealing the win.
Fiji coach Angeline Chua commended her team’s resilience. “It was a close match, but credit to the players, they wanted the win so they fought for it and got it in the end. We really need to capitalise on our chances and be more clinical in front of the goal mouth,” she added.
Vanuatu has now lost two matches, which leaves Fiji and hosts Solomon Islands in the running to top the group. They meet on Friday at 3pm at Lawson Tama.
By Carlos Aruafu, Pacific Games News Service