Usually it’s the final that offers the biggest prize to teams hoping to progress through Oceania qualifying to a FIFA World Cup.
However when New Zealand and New Caledonia take to the field at Luganville Soccer City Stadium tomorrow morning they do so knowing that at the final whistle, one of them will be going to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea 2017.
If that’s not a big enough carrot for these players, then the opportunity to get one over a long-time rival will be.
New Zealand are a determined bunch who know that a large target rests on their back thanks to their long-time dominance in this region.
Hoping for a clean sweep of the group stage Darren Bazeley’s charges were held to a 0-0 draw by Solomon Islands but that’s already in the past as they now look ahead to the next big encounter on the cards.
“It’s been a great tour so far, we’re exactly where we wanted to be. We topped the group and we’re unscathed,” Bazeley said.
“We know it’s a big game, a lot of pressure, but that’s why you play elite football – to play in games like this. We’re expecting it to be tough, but we’re ready, we’ll be organised and I’m excited to see it.”
The decision not to risk captain Clayton Lewis or midfield partner Moses Dyer left New Zealand looking a little out of sorts in the centre of the park, but was the right one given they were a caution away from semi-final suspension.
And although New Zealand has depth, they will be grateful to have them back for a match as big as this especially with their big game experience.
New Caledonia didn’t have the greatest run through Group A with a draw against Fiji leaving them with a nervous wait going into the final match day of the group stage.
Coach Kamali Fitialeata was disappointed by the side’s performance against Fiji and despite a 1-0 loss to group leaders and hosts Vanuatu in their third group match, he had nothing but praise for how his side performed.
Now he has the tough challenge of not only making sure that his side is physically prepared to take on New Zealand – a side that is certainly more favoured to come out this game with tickets to Korea – but mentally prepared.
“We’re incredibly happy to be here in Santo for the semi-finals,” Fitialeata said.
“We have a team here which is competitive, who likes playing with the ball and I’ve heard that the New Zealand side we’re facing is a physical one.
“I know the coach, Darren, well and there’s a few players like Logan Rogerson from the U-17s last year.
“I know their players will be very disciplined, with a very organised approach and we’re going to try our best to earn our place in the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time.”
The winner of this semi-final will qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea 2017, as well as progress to Saturday’s OFC U-20 Championship final in Port Vila.
New Zealand vs. New Caledonia
Luganville Soccer City Stadium
Tuesday 13 September
Referee: Kader ZITOUNI (TAH))
Assistant Referee 1: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 2: Hilmon SESE (VAN)
Fourth Official: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
Reserve Assistant Referee: Phul SINGH (FIJ)
Vital Statistics: The odds are firmly in New Zealand’s favour for this match with them never having lost a match to New Caledonia at this level.
The Players: Clayton Lewis and Moses Dyer’s return should shore things up in the centre of the park for New Zealand. Up front Myer Bevan is a slippery striker whether he’s in possession or not, and that should keep the opposition defence on their toes.
Coach Quote: “Overall their performances have looked really steady and over the last game they rested players once they’d qualified so I won’t read too much into that. It’s a massive opportunity for New Caledonia to beat New Zealand and that’s what they’ll be trying to do.”
New Zealand: 1. Michael WOUD (GK), 2. Jack-Henry SINCLAIR, 3. Sean LIDDICOAT, 5. Hunter ASHWORTH, 6. Luke JOHNSON, 7. Logan ROGERSON, 8. Moses DYER, 9. Myer BEVAN, 10. Clayton LEWIS, 11. Sarpreet SINGH, 12. Cameron BROWN (GK), 13. Charlie THOMAS, 14. Jake PORTER, 15. Lucas IMRIE, 16. Joe BELL, 17. George DEBENHAM, 18. Reese COX,
Injured: 4. Nando PIJNAKER
Absent: 19. Joshua DIJKSTRA (GK)
Coach: Darren BAZELEY (NZL)
Vital Statistics: Having never beaten New Zealand, New Caledonia’s best result against them is a 2-2 draw in 2008.
The Players: Albert Watrone has physical presence and a high work rate leading New Caledonia’s fight back in match one through his effort and goal. Jean-Marc Kaudre is a quiet achiever and a steady influence in the backline. A second caution Renzo Wejieme against Vanuatu rules him out of this match with a suspension.
Coach Quote: “I think against Vanuatu, despite the loss, we played very well. I was incredibly happy with the players because they played the game we wanted to play. They put in place the plan we asked them to and I hope that they’ll be able to reproduce the same thing here in Santo.”
New Caledonia: 1. Mickaël ULILE (GK), 2. Gaëtan GOPE-IWATE, 3. Jean-Marc KAUDRE, 4. Brice KAI, 5. Pothin POMA, 6. Wapö ELE-HMAEA, 7. Bryan AUSU, 8. Shene WELEPANE, 9. Albert WATRONE, 10. Thomas GOPE-FENEPEJ, 11. Patrick GOHE, 12. Wéda WAITREU, 13. Warren HOUALA, 14. Romarick LUEPAK, 15. Henri BOUCHERON, 16. Lucas BITAUD, 17. Johanes BERNOLE, 19. Cyril NYPIE, 20. Nathanaël HLEMU (GK)
Suspended: 18. Renzo WEJIEME
Coach: Kamali FITEALEATA (NCL)