France beckons for New Zealand

New Zealand's fourth victory secures their spot in the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. Credit: OFC via Phototek

New Zealand have effectively claimed their place at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup with a match in hand after beating Samoa 6-0 on Match Day 4 of the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship.

New Caledonia picked up their second victory of the competition, with a 3-1 win over Tonga before a thrilling final encounter saw Fiji hold off a comeback from Papua New Guinea to claim a 3-2 victory.

The Kiwis four from four record has earned them an unattainable lead in the standings going into their fifth and final match against Tonga on Monday, but they weren’t given easy passage by a determined Samoa side.

Different approaches from both New Zealand and Samoa in the opening  encounter saw one of the lowest scoring first halves for the Kiwis in the competition so far.

In spite of that, New Zealand powered their way to a 6-0 victory to claim their fourth straight victory to secure the title with a match in hand.

Coach Gareth Turnbull said a different style had some bearing on the first half as the players adapted, but he’s pleased to once again come away with a victory.

“I’m pleased to come away with the win in very challenging conditions,” Turnbull said.

“I think some of our smartest football was actually when the weather was at its worst, so we played some good wet weather football I thought. And that’s something we definitely don’t train.”

Turnbull said Samoa’s first half performance in particular, and the impressive Jecky Toma in goal certainly gave his side something to think about.

“It’s certainly the deepest defensive block we’ve come across this tournament which took us a while to figure out,” he said.

“We played in a new shape as well to sort of challenge our girls a bit and they coped well with that.”

New Zealand were made to work hard by their opponents from the outset as Samoa’s deep-lying defence proved tough to break down. The Kiwis kept the ball moving around the top of the box, looking for a way through.

A couple of decent efforts were sent at goal but keeper Jecky Toma proved more than up to the challenge as she slapped shots away and smothered others. New Zealand’s break came after a good 20 minutes of hard work as Samantha Tawharu put a rebounding ball in at the back post.

After a quick discussion with coach Turnbull on the sideline, Jale altered her position slightly and it paid off when she hammered home in the 30th minute. However that was all Samoa would allow going into the break as they tightened ranks and kept the Kiwis from adding to their tally.

As the sides came back for the second half, the weather had worsened making things difficult for both sides. New Zealand seemed to cope with the conditions slightly better than the Samoans and in the 56th minute they’d broken down the backline once again, this time it was an own goal.

The goals continued to flow as Emma Main, and Hannah Blake got on the scoresheet, while Sam Tawharu added a second to take her clear at the top of the golden boot race with her ninth of the tournament.

Samoa coach Martin Tamasese said the effort from his side was impressive, especially for the first 45 minutes.

“The first half was really good and we were playing according to our plan but in the first 20 minutes of the second half it was raining hard and windy which was hard for us, but it’s not an excuse,” Tamasese said.

“But at least we kept on fighting. I was definitely happy and impressed with the performance today. It looks so awkward the way we play but it’s our plan and it’s how we wanted to defend against New Zealand.”

The second encounter of the day saw Tonga and New Caledonia battle neck-and-neck to a 3-1 result in the Francophones’ favour at the full time whistle.

The match had only just gotten underway when it had to pause for 30 minutes after a lightning strike. When it got back underway the conditions remained wet making things difficult for both teams.

New Caledonia were the ones to profit after Alice Wenessia and Oceane Forest scored in quick succession to take a two goal lead within just 11 minutes.

Marie-Laure Palene brought New Caledonia’s tally up to three only 10 minutes later, sending a long range free kick over Mele Akolo’s gloves and directly into goal.

Tonga found some solace before the half-time whistle when Mele Kafa scored a well-earned goal after being denied by goalkeeper Karine Xozame several times in the opening minutes.

The second 45 minutes saw some impressive back-and-forth as both backlines were put to the test but despite losing Cassidy Cawa to a red card in the 83rd minute, New Caledonia were able to hold the Tongans out until the final whistle.

Tonga coach Christian Koaneti was crushed by the result after such an improved second-half performance from his team but gave credit to his young squad for leaving everything on the field as tried to catch their opponents.

“I’m pretty disappointed with the result and how the game turned out today. We had a few chances in the second half but we didn’t quite finish the job,” he said.

“Overall, I think it’s not fair for me to comment negatively on the girls’ performances since they gave it their all. That is all is asked of them in terms of performance.

“Whatever the result, if I see them giving their all, I’m happy with today’s performance.”

New Caledonia coach Kamali Fitialeata was very pleased to see his team get a victory but admitted his side were a little lucky today.

“For the girls, to win is good for their confidence, especially with the weather what it was,” he said.

“It was tough today and we were also a little bit lucky as well because they could have possibly had a penalty, but we had chance on our side.”

Fiji bounded to an early lead against Papua New Guinea as they chased goals and points in an effort to improve their position in the standings today.

Coach Saroj Kumar said his side left everything out on the pitch as Papua New Guinea forced the best out of them.

“They really played their hearts out like we had planned for today. In 2016 the U-17s drew in the Cook Islands so this was our target. We know that Papua New Guinea is one of the best islands teams and it was good to see them all come out firing,” he said.

“It was a wonderful performance from Papua New Guinea as well. They had us on the back foot most of the time in the second half but it was good that our girls managed to score two goals.”

Although the first half was fairly even with opportunities to take the lead coming for both teams, it was Fiji who managed to get the upper hand when captain Luisa Tamanitoakula put a loose ball in the back of the net.

Fiji carried the one goal advantage into the second half but it didn’t take long for them to extend the lead when Tamanitoakula pounced once again in the 55th minute to earn her brace. A minute later and the lead was narrowed as Nicollete Ageva netted.

The equaliser came for Papua New Guinea when Fiji keeper Ateca Tuwa came off her line to clear the ball, leaving her net empty for Jacklyn Maiyosi to finish in behind her. But as football goes, it took just two minutes for Fiji to regain the lead, as Faith Kasiray made the same mistake, leaving her goal empty forAsenaca Diranuve to finish into.

Papua New Guinea coach Rachel Wadunah was disappointed that victory slipped from her side’s grasp after such an inspired comeback.

“Mentally they were strong, they played well and I was pleased with how they performed. We were able to attack well and they had some good chances going forward,” she said.

“The girls did very well but they had a lot of opportunities but never put those away. This is a little bit disappointing.”

The fifth and final day of OFC U-19 Women’s Championship action will be held on Monday 24 July at Ngahue Reserve in Auckland.

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