Win or lose, Wednesday 28thNovember 2018 is a date which will go down in history for the New Caledonia women’s national team.
The side will debut in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup semi-finals, after finishing second behind Papua New Guinea in Group A, an occasion which will also be marked by their first encounter against New Zealand’s senior women’s team in 35 years.
While the women’s football programme in New Caledonia is still in the early stages of development following a long hiatus, their upcoming opponents have been regional leaders since winning their first title in the inaugural edition back in 1983, which coincidently is the first and last time New Caledonia appeared in this competition until now.
New Zealand has seen off each one of their challengers in Group B with ease, beating Cook Islands 6-0 and hitting double digits against Tonga and Fiji – who join them in the semi-finals – without conceding a single goal so far.
The hosts however were made to work for their place in the semi-final. They started well, beating Tahiti 4-2 in their opener but were then beaten comprehensively 6-2 by Papua New Guinea who went on to top the group. Their final match against Samoa they dominated, but struggled with their finishing which meant they got just two on the board. But it’s a win that secured them the spot in the semi-final so coach Kamali Fitialeata said he can’t complain especially given the improvement between match two and three.
“The way we played against Samoa was pleasing compared with the second match. The girls played with the ball as we know they can and which is what we needed them to do,” Fitialeata said.
In addition, faced with an incredibly strong, professional New Zealand side, the New Caledonian knows his team is up against the odds.
“We don’t know how things will go on Wednesday but for now the adventure continues and mentally we’re in a good place,” he said.
“It’s definitely going to be hard for us but we’ll try to do something with the players we have available because we don’t quite have the same group which we began with.”
Fitialeata is referring to a couple of players he’s lost to injury, while others have been in and out of camp as they sit their end of year exams.
Despite the disruptions, he hopes his side will remain competitive as they go up against the defending champions.
New Zealand meanwhile can feel confident about their chances of progression to a fourth consecutive OFC Women’s Nations Cup final.
While the squad features some newcomers like Emma Rolston and Grace Jale, it also features a strong foundation of players including the most capped New Zealander Ria Percival as well as a host of 50-plus capped players.
It gives coach Tom Sermanni a lot of talent to work with and also leaves him with choices to make after three solid performances across the group stage.
“We can now focus on New Caledonia,” he said following his side’s final group encounter.
“Now we can put our full focus on New Caledonia, have a look at the video of them, do some study and get ourselves prepared and then look forward to the adventure to the islands.”
New Zealand vs. New Caledonia
Wednesday 28 November
Lifou, New Calédonia
Referee: Rani PERRY (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Maria SALAMASINA (SAM)
Assistant Referee 2: Vaihina TEURA (TAH)
Fourth Official: Fina ANGELO (VAN)
These two sides have only met once before at senior women’s level with New Zealand having taken the win.
1983 – New Zealand 6-0 New Caledonia
New Zealand: 1. Erin NAYLER (GK), 2. Ria PERCIVAL, 3. Anna GREEN, 4. CJ BOTT, 5. Meikayla MOORE, 6. Rebekah STOTT, 7. Ali RILEY, 8. Emma ROLSTON, 9. Katie ROOD, 10. Annalie LONGO, 11. Sarah GREGORIUS, 12. Betsy HASSETT, 13. Rosie WHITE, 14. Katie BOWEN, 15. Sarah MORTON, 16. Liz ANTON, 17. Stephanie SKILTON, 18. Grace JALE, 19. Paige SATCHELL, 20. Malia STEINMETZ, 21. Victoria ESSON (GK), 23. Nadia OLLA (GK)
Coach: Tom SERMANNI (AUS)
New Caledonia: 1. Lorenza HNAMANO (GK), 2. Josiane AYAWA, 3. Moisette BROUSTET, 4. Claire KAEMO, 5. Glenda JAINE, 6. Marilyse LOLO, 7. Cassidy CAWA, 8. Kamene XOWIE, 9. Jackie PAHOA, 10. Aurélie LALIE, 11. Kim MAGUIRE, 12. Bernadette EURIBEARI, 13. Madeleine JAINE, 14. Kathleen NEMOUARE, 15. Darnelle HACE, 16. Ivonne XOWI, 17. Shaya IHMELING, 18. Sydney GATHA, 19. Ami-Nata AJAPUHNYA, 20. Dolores BODEOUAROU (GK), 21. Céline XOLAWAWA, 22. Cinthia PAITA, 23. Dominique NEXON
Coach: Kamali FITIALEATA (NCL)