Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek – Fiji captain Adi Bakaniceva and New Zealand captain Manaia Elliott with the trophy.
Host nation Fiji and defending champions New Zealand will face-off in the Final at OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2023 at HFC Bank Stadium in Suva on Saturday evening.
Having faced one another in their opening Group B encounter earlier in the tournament, the two sides will meet once again, this time with the title on the line following their respective semi-final victories over Samoa and Cook Islands.
Seven-time champions New Zealand will be looking to continue their dominance, having been in imperious form thus far and yet to concede a goal, whilst Fiji will be hoping another passionate home crowd will help continue their momentum off the back of their 3-1 win against Samoa on Wednesday.
For Fiji Head Coach Angeline Chua, having already faced New Zealand earlier in the campaign is a positive in terms of her side’s growth and development.
“From the start we know that every opponent will be tough. It’s nice to have tough opponents as then you can analyse your weaknesses and strengths and that’s how we’ll approach the game. We try to improve on our weaknesses but then also look at our strengths and make a game plan,” Chua said.
With the biggest challenge still to come for the hosts, sticking to what they know will be key for Chua and her players.
“For us routine is very important, usually after a game we have a recovery session with the first XI and then we also do training for what we call our game changers. Every game changer that comes in makes a difference, so everything around the team is highly motivated,” she continued.
Hoping to spoil the party for the home crowd, New Zealand have been in fine form throughout the championship, most recently seeing off a dogged and determined Cook Islands side 5-0 in their semi-final on Wednesday evening.
Head Coach Leon Birnie is acutely aware of the challenge that faces them when they come up against the hosts for a second time in a matter of weeks.
“Yeah look, that was our toughest game by far at this competition and we expect exactly the same. They’re a very physical, fast side, well structured and we’ve got to come out and make sure we put on a good performance if we want to come away with the win.”
Having rotated his starting XI considerably over the course of the tournament, Birnie will be faced with the challenge of deciding who takes to the field on Saturday, with a number of players vying for spots in key positions.
“It’s a very tough decision as a coach! There’s been some really good performances across the competition and now we’ve got to select eleven. There will be some disappointed players who won’t be starting but we’ve done a lot of work around us as a squad, we’re one team and regardless of who’s starting, the whole squad will be what gets us through on the night.”
Prior to the Final kicking-off at 7pm local time, Samoa and Cook Islands will contest for third place, with the two sides having put together impressive runs before coming up short at the semi-final stage.
With both teams showing resolute defence and a consistency in team selection, it could prove to be one of the tightest matches across the whole tournament when proceedings get underway at 1pm in Suva.
You can catch all the action LIVE on OFC TV as the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2023 reaches its’ exciting conclusion!
PLAY-OFF FOR THIRD PLACE
1300 Samoa v Cook Islands | WATCH LIVE
1900 Fiji v New Zealand | WATCH LIVE