Rain fails to stop Fiji scoring impressive win

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Digicel baby Bula boys player Watisoni Batirerega passes the ball during the Oceania football championship at the HFC stadium in Suva, 2023. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

THE heavens opened but it was Fijian prayers that were answered with a 3-0 win over Tonga at HFC Bank Stadium on Wednesday night.

It was the last group game of the Oceania Football Confederation Under-17 Championship 2023, and meant Fiji top Group A.

Kick-off was delayed for the fixture by 45 minutes because of the torrential rain that had hit Fiji in the previous 24 hours. A record of 90mm fell in the lead up to the original start time, meaning that both sides knew it would likely be difficult for Fiji to score the required 13 goals to knock Tonga out of the tournament.

Fiji started off well, not letting the soggy field stop them playing attacking football. After only a couple of minutes there was a great chance missed by Jacob Seninawanawa, who just lost his footing attempting to connect with a low cross.

The impressive Ibraheem Afazel, who won player of the match in Fiji’s 3-0 win over Samoa, fired a shot from the edge of the box that just scraped the cross bar.

But Seninawanawa soon made up for it, scoring in the eighth minute in a classic poacher’s finish, knocking in a deflection off the goalkeeper from a messy corner.

That seemed to suggest that the 13 goals needed to knock Tonga out might just have been within reach. Tempers flared end of the first half, after the ball was moved to the corner of the Tongan half. A scuffle broke out and the outcome was a red card being shown to Sailimone Ravonokula, meaning he was the first player to be sent from the fi eld in the entire tournament.

Whatever Fiji coach Sunil Kumar said at halftime worked, as Fiji scored their crucial second goal just five minutes after the teams returned to the field. Despite having 10 men, Waitisoni Batirerega managed to send a beautiful pass through for Afazel, who sent the ball past goalkeeper Siosiua Moimoi.

Coach Kumar was rewarded on his birthday with a solid win moving into the quarter-finals.

However he also got the gift of a yellow card from referee Ben Aukwai in the second half.

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