Fiji are into their first OFC U-19 Championship 2022 final in 20 years after a 1-0 win over New Caledonia in their semi-final clash at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti.
Nabil Begg’s second-half finish secured a place in Saturday’s tournament showpiece, as well as qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Indonesia 2023™ as one of the tournament’s top two sides.
Historically, Fiji have the better record in this tournament fixture, winning six of the previous nine meetings. That record was reflected in a dominant first-half performance, with the Junior Bula Boys having several chances to take the lead.
Melvin Mani was a constant threat and saw his free-kick well saved by Wareen Hlupa within the opening two minutes.
However, Fiji’s best chance of the opening period came from the head of Mohammed Raheem. His towering effort bounced up and onto the bar before being hooked off the line by the desperate defending of Bertrand Katrawa.
Mani came close to breaking the deadlock on three more occasions in the first 45 minutes, including a smart turn and strike which was well saved by Hlupa on the brink of half-time.
When these two sides last met at this competition in 2018 a 1-1 draw saw New Caledonia eliminate Fiji in the group stages. Four years on and New Caledonia looked far more likely to repeat that achievement in the second-half.
Jymaël Upa, Paul Jone and Yannick Ipunesso all tested Fiji stopper Aydin Mustahib as they improved on their first-half showing.
But Fiji rode the wave and eventually got the reward their performance deserved. Gulam Razool provided the assist with some dazzling wide play, with Begg having the simple task of volleying in from close range for 1-0.
Mani should have put the game to bed but hit his effort straight at Hlupa but despite New Caledonia’s best efforts they could not force the equaliser.
Fiji will meet either New Zealand or Tahiti, who face off in today’s other semi-final, in the final on Saturday, September 24 at 8.00pm local time while New Caledonia will face the loser of that game in the third place playoff.
Fiji U-19 1 (Nabil BEGG 75′)
New Caledonia U-19 0