Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek
Fiji scored with only 5 minutes remaining of their Quarter-Final against New Caledonia in Suva to confirm their place in the Semi-Finals of OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2023
Emma Mereia’s 85th minute winner ensures that the host nation side will face Samoa on Wednesday for a place in the Final.
New Caledonia started the brighter and came within inches of taking the lead. Julia Honakoko’s free-kick wasn’t dealt with by Fiji goalkeeper Mereseini Waqali and with the ball seemingly destined to fall into the net, Sereana Naweni somehow scrambled the ball clear under immense pressure from Laëtitia Leme.
An even better chance would arrive later in the half, when Honakoko was clipped just inside the area by Angeline Rekha having nicked the ball ahead of the defender. Leme took spot-kick duties but her low effort was fantastically tipped away by a diving Waqali.
The last few minutes of the half saw New Caledonia suffer two immense blows. First playmaker Honakoko limped off with an injury, replaced by Caroline Naaoutchoue. Then Drounuhe Sakilia, having been booked minutes earlier, cynically up-ended a rampaging Preeya Singh, leaving the referee no choice but to brandish a second yellow and subsequent red.
Fiji, as expected, were the dominant side in the second-half, with New Caledonia content to allow them possession and territory, looking to exploit any gaps in behind.
Adi Bakaniceva and the excellent Narieta Leba both went close in short-time, the former having her shot cleared following a scrambled corner whilst the latter shot wide having beaten three players with some outstanding footwork.
Emma Mereia had arguably the best chance in the 65th minute but was thwarted by an excellent save by Marie-Pierre Atrewe, coming out fast to close the angle and smother Mereia’s effort.
Fiji continued to pour forward at every opportunity but time and again couldn’t find the final flourish to give them a vital lead. At the other end, New Caledonia threatened to spoil the home crowd’s party, Ronaldine Hnaune coming closest with a snap-shot from the edge of the area that flew over the bar.
The breakthrough finally arrived in the 85th minute, when one of Fiji’s most dangerous outlets Mereia capitalised on a goalkeeper spill in the box following a free-kick and was able to prod the ball home past the despairing defenders on the line, sending the majority of fans inside the HFC Bank Stadium into raptures.
Next for Fiji is a mouthwatering Semi-Final clash against Samoa – winners on penalties over New Caledonia earlier in the day – to be played on Wednesday.
New Caledonia: 0
Fiji: 1 (Emma Mereia 85′)