Consistent performances throughout the season have helped see Lupe Ole Soaga through to their their first Samoa Women’s Premier League title.
The team from Magiagi village have been top performers since they made their first appearance in Samoa’s top women’s league, making the final against Kiwi FC in 2013 to claim second place in their debut year of competition.
The consistency of the side comes as little surprise to those in the know, given the entire Lupe Ole Soaga club is overseen by coach Paul Ualesi.
Ualesi is best known for his role as head coach of the men’s side, a team he has led to multiple OFC Champions League, including this year’s appearance when the side claimed an historic 4-3 victory over Fiji club champions Ba FC to claim the first win for a Samoan club in the competition.
Ualesi said the women’s side has gone from strength-to-strength since losing their opening match of the league, their only loss of the season.
“They improved with every game thereafter,” he said.
“They worked really hard with the coaching staff on their fitness, skills and game strategies at training each week. They were getting fitter, faster, stronger and it was evident in winning their last game of the round against the top seed team of the round robin, Moataa.”
Moataa finished top of the league standings with 30 points, despite the 1-0 loss to Lupe in their final match. Lupe and Kiwi both finished just one point behind with 29 points each, with Kiwi taking second place on superior goal difference.
“That win gave the team confidence going into the Top 8 and their determination is what got them through to the finals, and they kept fighting until the final whistle blew.”
In the quarter finals, Lupe saw off Lotopa SC 3-0, setting up a meeting with Kiwi FC in the semi-final which finished in Lupe’s favour 2-0. Moataa’s road to the final had them seeing off LFC 4-0 before a tough encounter with Faatoia United which they narrowly won 4-3 to earn their place in the final.
Ualesi said his team were able to approach the final knowing Moataa weren’t invincible, having beaten them once before.
“They did really well and were able to keep the skilful Moataa at bay and remain scoreless in the first half. They came back and lifted their game for the second half and were the first to score,” he said.
“Although Moataa equalised with about 10 minutes to go, they didn’t give up, kept their composure and kept pushing forward. That pressure saw them awarded a penalty with just minutes to go.”
With extra-time looking likely to decide the match, a decision from referee Lafi Ioane to award a penalty in favour of Lupe for a handball in the area, seemingly sent the match into a tailspin with only a few minutes remaining of regular time.
Disputing the decision, the Moataa captain kicked the ball out of play and walked off the field, with her team following suit, which led to Moaata forfeiting the match and the victory being awarded to Lupe Ole Soaga.
Lupe could be forgiven for feeling like it was an empty victory, but Ualesi said the team refuse to see it that way.
“We had a whole village behind us that day and our girls did not want to disappoint them. They went into that game determined to get that win and kept fighting until the end.
“Moataa’s decision to walk away does not affect us, we were there to play fair and win or lose with our head held high.”
Lupe captain Epi Cassandra Tafili, one of three international’s the team boasts alongside Afioga Ene and Renee Atonio, echoed Ualesi’s point-of-view admitting it was a disappointing manner with which to end the match however the team would enjoy the victory nonetheless.
“I am grateful to our village of Magiagi for their continuous support, our parents, families, friends, our Church Ministers, and everyone who supports our team,” she told the Samoa Observer.
“We have reached our goal but it definitely won’t end here. We will come back again next year.”