Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

New Zealand kick start their title defence with a comfortable 3-0 victory against New Caledonia in the opening match of Group B at the OFC Men’s U-19 Championship.

Defending Champions New Zealand got stuck in right from the whistle, Auckland City attacker Stipe Ukich registering two early shots on target. But New Caledonia’s goalkeeper was more than up to the task.

New Caledonia’s resilience was eventually broken in the 18th minute after defender Jythrim Upa was punished for raising his hands in the box. Ukich made no mistake from the penalty spot with his shot leaving Gabin Rachel rooted to the floor.

Minutes later Ukich had another in the back of the net, but it was waved away after he was deemed to have fouled a New Caledonia defender in the box.

New Caledonia defender Upa was fortunate to not have been sent off after a dangerous tackle on Tze Xuan Loke, instead he was cautioned with a yellow. As for Loke, his day was over after succumbing to an ankle injury.

The left-hand side of New Caledonia’s defence was under siege from Ukich, who drove into the box, skipping pass the first defender, before teeing up Ryan Watson for an easy tap in.

New Zealand quickly tripled their lead after the break, Daniel Makowem got the better of his defender, providing a pinpoint cross for Keegan Kelly who arrived at the back post to guide it past Rachel.

After a sustained period of dominance by the defending champions, New Caledonia went close to pinching one back against the run of play. Joseph Hnaissilin intercepting a ball in the midfield before driving towards goal, his shot just missing the target.

Both teams now look to Tuesday and their second match of the group stage, when New Zealand face hosts Samoa and New Caledonia take on Papua New Guinea.

New Zealand: 3 (Stipe UKICH 18’, Ryan WATSON 45+5’, Keegan KELLY 48’)
New Caledonia: 0

HT 2-0