Tonga aiming big, Tahiti out for points

Tonga are hoping for a strong display against New Zealand tomorrow. Picturet: OFC via Phototek

PAPE’ETE, 09 AUGUST 2018 (OFC)—Tournament minnows Tonga are hoping to put on the performance of a lifetime when they take on the big guns New Zealand in their second OFC U-19 Championship encounter at Stade Pater today.

Meanwhile hosts Tahiti will be out to draw first blood against a lively Papua New Guinea side keen to keep accumulating points after notching the full three on Match Day 1.

Tonga’s first half performance in their opening match was impressive, catching many by surprise with their high pressing and ball movement when in possession. Although the side never really troubled the Papua New Guinea goal, the mere fact they held their opponent scoreless for the majority of the first half was a feat few expected.

Tonga coach Soane Mailangi said a compact approach paid off against the speed of their Papua New Guinean opponents, but the pace of the game at this level was what his players struggled to maintain.

“The mission for the Tonga FA technical department is to be competitive in every OFC tournament and so for me, 4-0 wasn’t so bad for me considering we’ve come up from the bottom,” Mailangi said.

With the defending champions and perennial favourites New Zealand up next, Mailangi knows the task of remaining competitive will only get harder for his charges.

“New Zealand are the favourites of this tournament and I’m looking forward to playing them. I hope my boys will work hard and be competitive with New Zealand, and I look forward to a good result.”

New Zealand were not given the easiest road through their opening match by the tournament hosts Tahiti but Des Buckingham’s charges held off a late charge to earn the victory.

He’s hoping for an easier outing against the Qualifier winners, but is by no means about to underestimate Tonga or their ability to turn up with another surprise performance.

“I was very impressed with them, the first half especially, in the way that they were able to close out PNG,” Buckingham said.

“PNG managed to work through them and it opened up a little bit towards the second half but it will be another tough test for us come Wednesday.”

As for how his side will approach the match, Buckingham said the decisions will be made closer to game day as he assesses their recovery.

“There’ll probably be some changes but we’ll see how the recovery goes first.”

After eventually managing to break down the strong defensive approach of the Tongans in their opening match, Papua New Guinea will face a different kind of challenge when they come up against their hosts Tahiti.

When the two nations met at U-17 level at Stade Mahina on 17 February 2017, it was the Melanesians who came out on top.

Both Jonathan Allen and Emmanuel Simongi were on the scoresheet for PNG in the 2-1 victory, with local darling Eddy Kaspard the author of Tahiti’s lone goal.

All three of them are back this year to help their nations prove a point, and all three will be likely play key roles in tomorrow’s encounter, with Kaspard and Allen both getting on the scoreboard in their openers.

Papua New Guinea coach Harrison Kamake made a couple of tactical changes in his side’s first game including swapping out striker Jonathan, for younger brother Abraham.

“We had to take him out because we wanted to speed up the attacking. Abraham did that and we were happy with the two goals he scored.”

Looking ahead Kamake knows Tahiti’s style of play and their opposing physicality will cause problems for his side, however he’s hopeful the players will successfully adopt the tactical approach he wants to see implemented.

“We know the side that Tahiti have and we’re happy to go up against them in the coming game,” he said.

While they went down to New Zealand, Tahiti can be proud of the display they presented to fans who turned up in their numbers at Stade Pater on Sunday to see the national team in action.

Coach Bruno Tehaamoana said his side has shown their abilities and the cohesion which he believes will help carry his squad through the event.

“We watched Papua New Guinea’s first game and we took some points away from it both in terms of their strengths and weaknesses,” Tehaamoana said.

“I hope on Wednesday we will perform as we did against New Zealand. With all due respect to our opponent, if we can retain the level of the first match, we shouldn’t have too many difficulties.”

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