New Zealand made a stunning start to their defence of the OFC U-17 Championship title this evening with an 11-0 goal-fest registered against Samoa at Stade Pater.
Fellow Group B sides Fiji and Solomon Islands played out a thrilling 1-1 stalemate in the second encounter of the evening.
New Zealand got their campaign underway after acknowledging a moment’s silence for the All Whites 1982 World Cup captain, Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit and recipient of the FIFA Order of Merit Steve Sumner, who passed away earlier this month.
It was a strong start for the Kiwis who took just five minutes to register their first goal when Willem Ebbinge chested down an indirect free kick and volleyed it hard into the net. His brace came just five minutes later when he followed up on an attempted clearance.
Another ten minutes and Charles Spragg was on the board with a sweetly struck finish to a Matthew Palmer before Kingsley Sinclair added one to the tally. Five minutes before the end of the half and Spragg added his second to give the New Zealanders a five-goal advantage going into the break.
It was a much improved performance from the Samoans in the second half however the New Zealand side proved too powerful for the tiring side to overcome. The held out until the 67th minute where an unmarked Palmer looped his header over the back-peddling Eti Fatu.
Palmer added two more to earn his hat-trick along with another to Spragg to join him. Captain Max Mata and Oliver Whyte also got in on the goalscoring action to take the Kiwis to 11.
Coach Danny Hay thought the general performance from his side was good, admitting that despite the score line, Samoa really tested them at times.
“Obviously we’re pleased that we got the result and the three points. It was tough in the conditions for the boys, it was pretty warm there throughout the middle of the game,” Hay said.
“In general I thought both teams played the game in really good spirits, I though Samoa at the beginning of the second half were outstanding – they really worked hard and a lot of credit goes to them, they made it hard for our team.”
Desmond Faaiuaso was obviously disappointed his side couldn’t do better to contain the prolific New Zealanders.
“I’m proud of my boys for the effort. We didn’t do well in the first half, but the second half was a bit better,” he said.
“Compared to other competitions when Samoa has come through the qualifier I think we handled it well.
“We can handle this level. Our boys were just a bit nervous today because it’s our first game here and it’s against New Zealand. Hopefully next time they will perform.”
A very early goal for Fiji – the quickest in the tournament so far at three minutes – helped with their confidence, while also putting their opponents Solomon Islands on the back foot.
It was a fast-paced encounter thanks in part to the quick-pass playing style the Solomon Islands adopted, combined with Fiji’s physicality and decision to use their height to their advantage with long balls.
Steward Toata and his teammates up front combined well to keep the defence led by captain Mohammed Naizal busy. Despite Solomon Islands advances they struggled to find the target and had to go into the break with a deficit of one goal.
Solomons came out with renewed energy in the second half throwing everything forward as they sought an equaliser. They eventually got what they were after in the 51st minute when Elis Mana fired the ball into the net off an odd-angled cross from Steward Toata.
With the score locked at one apiece the intensity of the match increased once again as both sides chased the three points. The Solomon Islanders had the better chances of the remaining period but couldn’t break down the Fiji back line forcing them to take a share of the points.
Fiji coach Shalen Lal believed the high intensity the Solomon Islanders brought to the match was difficult for his side to match.
“Coming into the game and scoring so early we were fortunate, but then again Solomon Islands were very good to keep the intensity of the game high,” he said.
“Whatever our original game structure and plan was I think we weren’t able to apply it against the high pace football the Solomon Islands played.
“I would say we handled it disastrously but once we changed our system of play we were better able to contain them.”
Solomon Islands coach Marlon Houkarawa said it was very much a game between two well matched opponents.
“I think everyone played well for both teams. It was obvious during the first half as Fiji played really well,” he said.
“Their use of the long balls was another strategy and we had to work out how to manage it.
“It was a silly mistake made by one of the central defenders who left his position and cost us the goal. We had to fight really hard to come back and score the equaliser.”
Group A will return to the fray on Tuesday at Stade Mahina with the match ups between Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, and the big Francophone face-off between Tahiti and New Caledonia.
Group B will next take to the field on Wednesday with New Zealand taking on Solomon Islands at 4pm before Fiji play Samoa at 7pm at Stade Pater.