With just seconds remaining, the Fijians turned the ball over in their own defensive ball and worked possession rapidly to Lydia Panapasa, who finished the move off but a split second too late. The goal did not stand and Samoa were able to celebrate the narrowest of wins – their first of the tournament.
The teams came into the meeting off the back of three defeats in Preliminaries stage one, and their previous head-to-head record at World Cups – two wins apiece – hinted at the evenly-matched nature of the contest.
Samoa got off to a fast start, scoring six unanswered goals. Once Fiji found their feet though, the shooting of Panapasa and Unaisi Rauluni inspired a spectacular first-quarter comeback, and ensured the second half of the quarter was far more even, and finished 18-16 to the Samoans.
A goal from Sanita To’o pushed that lead out to three early in the second quarter, and history repeated itself as the Samoans again scored six without reply. Fiji again found their feet late in the quarter, but slipped further behind as the half-time whistle blew with Samoa boasting a healthy 33-20 advantage.
A much stronger start to the third quarter spurred the Fijians on, and they began to grow further in confidence as they ate away at Samoa’s advantage. After drawing level, Rauluni scored the goal which saw them go in front for the first time, at 40-39. They ended the quarter 42-40 up.
Precision shooting from Toa Tanimo and Tee Salanoa saw Samoa roar back into contention in the early stages of the final quarter, and the teams could barely be separated as they continued to trade goals. It was Samoa who broke that pattern to go 49-47 clear.
They held an advantage until the final few seconds, seemingly able to keep safe possession and run down the clock to keep their one-goal lead. However Fiji intercepted, broke down court and were denied a sensational tie by the smallest of margins.
Lydia Panapasa said:
“I think the last shot was in but the girls did really great, we put all our effort into the game and played to the last whilst which is really positive.
“I feel we need to work on getting our rhythm in the first quarter, as the last quarter is always a do-or-die quarter. We should do that in the first quarter instead.”