By Jeremy Mogi – EM TV Sports, Port Moresby
Cook Islands and Samoa began their respective 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia campaigns in perfect fashion with contrasting wins on the opening day of Stage One in Tonga.
Cook Islands secured a 3-0 victory over Tonga, while Samoa survived an American Samoa comeback to prevail 3-2.
Tonga, playing their first home FIFA World Cup qualifier in 19 years, duly opened their match with a ferocious level of intensity and excitement.
The home side soon threatened as Hemaloto Polovili broke downfield and his pass found Fineasi Palei, only for goalkeeper Tahiri Elikana to make a point-blank save at his opponents feet.
Seven minutes before the break Cook Islands nabbed the all-important opener as a perfectly-flighted corner cleared a pack of players, including Tongan goalkeeper Heneli Saafi, allowing striker Taylor Saghabi to push home from close range.
They didn’t have long to wait for their second, with Saghabi grabbing another goal just seven minutes after the interval.
Saghabi then nailed his hat-trick in style with a run off the shoulder of his marker, before rifling past the goalkeeper from 15 metres as he took advantage of some laclustre defence.
The second match proved to be a feisty contest, with a real derby feel.
Samoan icon Desmond Faaiuaso scored from close range, thanks to Andrew Mobberley’s set-up, and the new-look American Samoa side look rattled in the early stages.
The seemingly inevitable second goal, however, arrived via a set-piece as Faitalia Hamilton-Pama headed towards goal at the back-post from a corner.
It was soon three as Mobberley cooly slotted home his shot, after a pacey run from Faaiuaso down the right had created the opportunity.
American Samoa, however, were not to be denied as Beauchamp deservedly got his side on the scoresheet, seven minutes before the break with a stunning turn and shot from 25 metres which looped over the keeper’s head.
Beauchamp then set up a chaotic and tense finale with his second of the match four minutes after the break, as the tall frontman deftly finished off Tor-Lawrence Mana’o’s cross from the right.
However it was too little, too late, with Samoa hanging on for a one goal win.
The qualifiers continue on Wednesday, with Cook Islands against Samoa followed by American Samoa versus Tonga.