Photo Credit: OFC Media via Christophe Fotozz

Fiji have advanced to the final of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship 2023 following a dramatic penalty shootout victory over hosts Tahiti.

Maerehia Dehors’ spot-kick was saved by Rosalain Sarahphina to end a action-packed encounter that swung either way throughout the 90 and the shootout itself.

Heavy rain throughout the morning and into the afternoon in Tahiti had threatened to prove an awkward challenge for both sides but the pace and intensity of the early exchanges belied any concerns as Fiji took the early impetuous against the host nation.

Despite their domination of possession it was Tahiti who had the match’s opening chance, when Nora Leodolter found space on the left channel but could only slice her left-footed effort wide of Rosalain Sarahphina’s post.

Showing similarly impressive pace at the other end was Fiji’s Shania Singh, who looked a constant menace any time she had the ball at her feet. In the 16th minute she skipped past two challenges but stretched when getting her effort away and Oferina Taerea gathered well in the Tahiti goal.

Minutes later and Fiji were presented with the perfect opportunity to open the deadlock. Elesi Tabunase drove into the penalty area, beating one defender being before brought down by another, leaving the referee with little option than to point to the spot.

Tabunsae herself took the ball and expertly placed her penalty hard and low to the keeper’s right to give her side a precious lead.

Fiji looked to maintain their lead heading into the break but in the 40th minute Turere  Tupahururu burst onto a through ball and her low effort squirmed under the body of Sarahphina to restore parity, much to the delight of the home crowd.

Just over 10 minutes into the second-half and Fiji edged themselves in front. A free-kick from wide on the left was taken by Seruwaia Laulaba and her right-footed effort sailed over all-comers and escaped he grasp of Tarea in goal, nestling in the far corner.

The lead was almost extended minutes later when a cutback found Torika Drosiniwai but her well hit effort could only find the welcome hands of Taerea.

Tahiti continued to push for a leveller as the clock ticked down and after great hold up play by Willany Kautai who laid it off for substitute Fetia Teikiotiu and her low effort was smahed under the body of Sarahphina to make it 2-2.

With stoppage time looming, goalscorer Tabunase had a golden chance to seal the win but a close range effort was miraculously tipped onto the post by Taerea and Tahiti escaped.

With neither side making the breakthrough in the final minutes, penalties was to determine who would advance to the final.

The first two efforts from both sides were saved, with the subsequent two scored as proceedings ebbed and flowed. It eventually fell to Tahiti’s Maerehia Dehors for Tahiti’s fifth kick and her low effort was saved by Sarahphina to send Fiji to the final.

Tahiti: 2 (2) (Turere TUPAHURURU 40′, Fetia TEIKIOTIU 83′)
Fiji: 2 (3) (Elesi TABUNASE (P) 34′, Seruwaia LAULABA 56′)

HT: 1-1