Oceania Football Confederation > News > 2015 OFC U-17 Championship > New Caledonia secure 2nd semi berth

New Caledonia secure 2nd semi berth

Earlier in the day New Zealand secured the top spot after defeating Cook Islands 6-0 while Fiji beat group hosts Samoa 4-1 to slot in behind Papua New Guinea in the group standings on goal difference.
After narrowly missing out on qualifying with a match in hand following their 5-4 defeat at the hands of New Zealand, New Caledonia were out to assert themselves as the top side in this competition. However they were faced with an equally as determined Papua New Guinea side who also remained in the running for that semi-final berth.
While only in need of a draw to progress, there was no chance this New Caledonia was going to play for that outcome, pressing high and fast from the outset. A number of close calls courtesy of the front trio of Henri Boucheron, Joris Kenon and Marino Akapo, with Joseph Hnagone also having a pop. However Papua New Guinea goalkeeper Jerry Seriba and his back line, and in particular captain Kenneth Pilailo, proved themselves worthy of the challenge.
Locked at 0-0 going into the half, coach Kamali Fitialeata’s team talk obviously paid off as a calmer side turned out after the break. After testing the defence several times, New Caledonia’s patience paid off as Kenon was fouled in the box leading to referee Kader Zitouni to point to the spot. Marino Akapo stepped up to take and fired home past Seriba to open the scoring in the 51st minute. New Caledonia tested their coach’s patience as they tried to walk the ball over the goal line and failed repeatedly, but finally broke through with a tidy solo effort from the irrepressible Kenon.
In the 76th minute following a substitution from the leaders, Papua New Guinea took advantage of a lapse in concentration to hit back via Oswald Bade in impressive fashion. The goal, and the appearance of super sub Freddy Tupani saw the side gain some confidence and New Caledonia found themselves forced into some quick decision making at the back.
Despite their best efforts Papua New Guinea couldn’t find a winner a fact coach Harrison Kamake was disappointed with to say the least.
“It’s unfortunate, we had our chances but we couldn’t convert them so it’s always the case if you don’t score goals it turns out this way,” he says.
“They [NCL] had the upperhand in the first half and our boys dug deep to come back and create chances, but if you cannot score goals…it’s unfortunate.”
A relieved Fitialeata was pleased to secure the three points and a final win here in Samoa ahead of the semi-finals.
“It’s justice served for the young boys and I’m incredibly happy for them. This morning we learned some not so great news for one of the players and I was worried that the group would lose concentration,” he says.
“But they all came together to bring us the three points and take us into the semi-finals. It was a great match, very intense. Papua New Guinea I almost didn’t recognise them tonight, they played exceptionally well and obviously put something in place that almost worked.”
In the day’s opening match it was a clash of the top, and bottom of the table as group leaders New Zealand took on Cook Islands. It seemed like a straightforward task for the favourites, but things didn’t quite go to plan.
New Zealand dominated possession and created some great chances but Cook Islands were up for the challenge and continued to deny them. However the defences crumbled early on when Oliver Ceci fired past a helpless Chrismagne Elikana in the tenth minute.
After conceding so early, Cook Islands rallied and spent the rest of the half denying shot after shot from the Kiwis, while attempting some swift counter attacks of their own. They were unlucky on a number of occasions not to be able to pull themselves back in line with their opponent, but between the defenders and an in-form Reuben Clark in goal, it wasn’t to be. Instead, a brief lapse in concentration as they waited for the half-time whistle to sound allowed New Zealand to capitalise and Jamie Woodlock was happy to do the honours.
In fact, it proved to be Woodlock’s day as he found the back of the net three more times in the second half to take New Zealand to 5-0. Twice Sione Fa’apoi played a crucial role in two of the goals as he delivered crosses from the left with pinpoint precision, before sub Logan Rogerson played creator, pulling the ball back from the line for Woodlock to finish in the 72nd minute.
Rogerson was denied one of his own in the 82nd minute as Elikana palmed his shot down, but the keeper delivered it straight at Sean Skeens who sent it flying past his ear as he tried to recover.
It was a job well done for Jose Figueira’s lads as they managed a full set of wins in the group stage, which was one of the key objectives.
“We said all along that we wanted to keep the standards and the level and I thought we did that very well today. We did already book our passage over but it’s really nice to finish top of the group,” he says.
“The first half was a little bit quiet, I think Cook Islands worked really hard defensively and we found it difficult to break them down so real credit to them and their work rate defending. Then as the game wore on we just managed to quicken up play and find those spaces.”
In the middle match Fiji took on home crowd favourites Samoa in an intense battle for mid-table supremacy. Despite another heart-warming performance from the locals, it wasn’t to be as Fiji eventually ran them down 5-1.
The first 30 minutes saw a reasonably even pair of performances as the two teams sought to assert their dominance. Fiji threw their height and weight behind their challenges and had a few opportunities but the closest calls early on were from Samoa, in particular a devastating rebound off the cross bar after an impressive strike from Seli Fuimaono.
It was Fiji who finally got the advantage as Fazeem Khan walked the ball over the line after Taase Hunt left the goal empty. After struggling to find a foothold in some of Fiji’s previous encounter, it proved to be Khan’s night as he added a second in the 33rd minute.
Samoa pulled one back courtesy of an excellent solo effort from Samualu Malo to leave it at 2-1 in Fiji’s favour at the half. Fiji didn’t need long to pull themselves further ahead as an unfortunate incident gave them their third less than five minutes after the restart. A long ball was headed by Bronson Lotu-I’iga back towards his keeper, but he was just a little wide of the intended target and could only clasp his head in horror as the ball rolled into his own net. Khan then added to Samoa’s misery two minutes later when he put one away in the 50th minute to claim his hat-trick and Fiji’s fourth.
Fiji co-coach Kamal Swamy says his side finally turned out the performance he’d been waiting for.
“I think we are happy. We told them the game plan, we worked on the game plan and playing possession football. We knew about the Samoan goalkeeper and we got the scores.
“We knew the keeper always spills the ball and that’s what we worked on and got two goals from that.”
An emotional Samoan captain Frank Mariner fronted after the match and had nothing but praise for the performance of his teammates tonight, and throughout this competition.
“To be honest we had a loss today but all the boys they put all the effort in to try hard. Whatever the result is, we tried our best in every match we played here,” he says.
“These boys have the heart to play soccer, I know they pushed hard, I believe in them and in the future of the game in Samoa.”
Group B plays their final games in Pago Pago, American Samoa for Match Day 10 as the two Group A sides, New Zealand and New Caledonia, arrive to join their top two ranked sides for the semi-finals which will be held on 24 January at Pago Park Soccer Stadium.

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