Jayda Stewart’s first-half goal ensured Samoa won Group A at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup with a 1-0 triumph over the Cook Islands.
But it is not all bad news for the Cook Islands, as the result also ensures their progression to the quarter-finals after finishing second in the group, ahead of Tonga on goal difference.
The Cook Islands had a couple of early chances, with captain Tayla Hetherington and Kura Mose both forcing Samoan goalkeeper Ronisa Lipi into action.
Samoa however pressed high up the pitch, not allowing the Cook Islands to pass out from the back and the tactic paid dividends a quarter of an hour into the game.
Stewart applied the pressure on a goal-kick passed to Teretia Teinaki, winning possession inside the opponent’s half before firing home the opening goal beyond Kimberly Uini.
Stewart and her strike partner Torijan Lyne-Lewis were causing the Cook Islands defence endless problems with their pressing and link-up play while Monique Fischer was pulling the strings in behind.
It led to continued dominance for Samoa in the first period, with Lyne-Lewis having a shot blocked before she and Stewart again had chances to score.
Uini, the Cook Islands’ 15-year-old keeper, was then called into action to make two reflex saves with her feet, first from Fischer’s deflected free-kick and then from Stewart’s powerful near-post drive.
The Cook Islands reacted immediately in the second-half, counter-pressing Samoa and gaining the early control in the second 45 minutes.
The change in tact nearly paid off, with substitute Simone Nicholas testing Lipi in the Samoa goal.
However, the mood soon changed ensuring they advanced to the quarter-finals, with a 1-0 loss enough to secure safe passage ahead of their other Group A rivals Tonga.
Uini again showed talent beyond her years, making a stunning one-on-one save from Fischer before the Samoa captain, goalscorer Stewart and substitute Sariah Taeoalii all had a swipe at goal during a nail-biting goalmouth scramble.
Faith Lilii Moa nearly produced a moment of magic to stretch Samoa’s lead but her looping half-volley clipped the crossbar as Paul Ifill’s side continued to try and derail their opponents’ progress. But at the final whistle, both teams looked relieved at their advancement.
Samoa move through as group winners, joining Papua New Guinea as the only side to have won both their games at the competition.
They will face New Caledonia while PNG will take on Tonga in the quarter-finals on Saturday, July 23.
The Cook Islands will face hosts Fiji while Tahiti plays Solomon Islands on Sunday July 24.
“Overall I thought we tried to play football. Maybe we lacked a little bit of polish at times but I was happy with the performance,” said Cook Islands head coach Gary Phillips.
“Obviously, at the end, it was about hanging in there and making sure that we don’t concede again. To hang in there like they did I am really proud of their effort.”
“I think it was a compliment to us at the end that they were not trying to go and win the game. I think they knew that 1-0 would get them through and they were happy with that so that is a compliment to us,” said Samoa head coach Paul Ifill.
“I think we played well, pretty much throughout. There was a couple of periods where I thought they got on top but we weathered the storm when we needed to and I thought we were way better than in our first game (v Tonga).”