New Caledonia exited their first FIFA U-17 World Cup this morning in heroic fashion, claiming a point off Asian powerhouses Japan after a 1-1 draw.
It was an exciting way to close out their tournament debut according to coach Dominique Wacalie.
“This is a proud moment and a big day for the whole country. It is a huge feeling. Before the tournament, the expectations weren’t high. We wanted to persist. Japan is an important team in football, so it is a big event for us and the team,” he said.
“Today, they showed what they really can do. This [U-17] World Cup will bring football in New Caledonia to a new level.”
After making wholesale changes, Japan were made to pay by the plucky New Caledonia side, although the 1-1 draw was enough to qualify them for the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.
Keito Nakamura scored his fourth goal of the competition early in the first half, and Jekob Jeno equalised dramatically in the 83rd minute for New Caledonia.
Although Japan had the vast majority of possession and dominated statistically, the Oceania representatives showed marked improvement following on from lopsided defeats to France and Honduras in their first two matches.
And they showed great bravery to fight their way back into a first half, in which they went behind in the sixth minute to Nakamura’s shot from a tight angle and saw their woodwork rattled twice.
Spurred on by the appreciative Indian crowd in Kolkata, they had a good chance to equalise near the half-hour mark when Bernard Iwa broke free into the Japanese third, but he launched a hasty shot from the edge of the area with just the goalkeeper to beat.
The second half was even more balanced, and Theo Bosshard almost scored from a great position inside the Japanese box in the 60th minute, but his shot flashed past the right post. Another good chance was denied by the Japanese goalkeeper, who tipped a shot around the post, but it was from that corner that Jeno headed in his goal.
India 2017 has been as steep learning curve for the young footballers from New Caledonia. After heavy defeats to France and Honduras, the Oceania side were given little chance of claiming something from Saturday’s clash with Japan in Kolkata.
Yet, after conceding an early Keito Nakamura goal, the Pacific islanders showed tremendous spirit and endeavour in scoring a late equaliser through Jekob Jeno.
In claiming their first-ever point in a FIFA competition, it was no surprise that New Caledonia celebrated the draw like a victory at the final whistle.