Organisers couldn’t have asked for better conditions for the opening day of the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2019 tournament with bright sunshine and moderate temperatures providing a perfect setting for all three matches scheduled to kick off the competition.
A dominant New Caledonian team flexed their muscles to brush aside their depleted Group C rivals Papua New Guinea when the action got underway at 10am on Friday morning, followed by two Group A matches, including a clinical Fiji performance against the Solomon Islands and a thrilling last gasp victory by local favourites Cook Islands over a brave but unlucky Vanuatu.
Papua New Guinea 0-8 New Caledonia
Perennial women’s football heavyweights Papua New Guinea were up against it from the outset after arriving in the Cook Islands with a squad of just thirteen and without some of their key players.
So it was little surprise when they found themselves a goal behind inside just three minutes, following a fantastic New Caledonian move inspired by a perfectly weighted through-ball by Cassidy Cawa to Jennifer Neporo, who didn’t make a mistake in a one-on-one situation, easily beating Benadette Rupi.
Cawa turned from provider to finisher to head home from a Marthe Katrawa cross, before Neporo grabbed her second, tapping home yet again with the help of a beautifully executed Cawa pass to make it 3-0 on the half-hour mark.
The impressive Cawa completed her own brace a couple of minutes later rounding up Rupi to give a comfortable lead to Les Cagous at the break.
Despite battling bravely to limit the damage, it got worse for Papua New Guinea after the interval with a red card for Norma Kasiray for fouling the rampaging Cawa at the edge of the box, before Jackie Pahoa smashed the resulting freekick into the roof of the net from the edge of the box in the 54th minute.
Ashley Gelima made it 6-0 by beating the keeper with a long range strike and Joana Boula added another from close range, almost immediately she came off the bench to replace the impressive Cassidy Cawa.
There was still time for an 89th minute owngoal by the unfortunate Susan Manasto to complete an emphatic 8-0 victory for the New Caledonians, and leave Papua New Guinea’s tournament hopes in tatters.
New Caledonia coach Coralie Breitegner couldn’t hide her delight with her players after the win.
“Yes it was a very impressive performance and I’m really proud of my team,” she said.
“This was a very important victory from a psychological point of view.
“It sets us up for the rest of the competition and gives the girls a lot of confidence,” enthused Breitegner.
On the other hand, her Papua New Guinea counterpart Rachel Wadunah was left feeling frustrated.
“We didn’t have our full squad here, for me it was really challenging, I had to leave behind five of my key players,” she lamented.
The PNG coach was also disappointed with her side’s inability to execute her tactics.
“It was very disappointing because I gave then the game-pan and I told them; this is what you should do, but for me they didn’t do it, that was very disappointing for me,” Wadunah explained.
Following the opening match in Group C, all eyes turned to the remaining two Group A matches of the day.
Solomon Islands 1-3 Fiji
Fiji showed plenty of intent during the early exchanges with Vitalina Naikore creating three half-chances inside the opening five minutes.
Asenaca Diranuve and Koleta Likuculacula were causing plenty of problems for the Solomon Islands defenders, and the Fijians almost took the lead in the 20th minute through Naikore who made a great run from deep inside from her half before Serah Alpefolocia produced a great save to push her shot onto the crossbar, and Diranuve smashed her shot against the woodwork from the rebound.
The deadlock was finally broken three minutes later courtesy of Diranuve, who expertly shook of her defenders to set herself up for a clinical drive from inside the box.
Naikore and Likuculacula kept Alpefolocia busy as the Fijians pushed forward searching for a killer second goal, but against the run of play it was the Solomon Islanders’ turn to celebrate thanks to a well-taken freekick by their skipper Edith Naru two minutes from the half-time break.
Fiji’s lead was restored on the hour-mark when they were awarded a penalty for a foul on Naikore, superbly converted by Laniana Qereqeretabua.
Diranuve put the result beyond any doubt seven minutes later by calmly slotting home from close range to set up the 3-1 win.
Despite the good performance and the win, Fiji coach Sunil Kumar was adamant Solomon Islands did provide his side with a stern challenge.
“We all know the first game is always tough, and we expected this to be tough, I told the girls earlier to expect a tough challenge from the Solomons and that’s what they gave us,” he said.
Kumar also believes his players need to be more clinical in front of goal if they want to challenge for the title.
“That’s the area we need to work on, we missed 8 or 9 goals in the first half, we should have put those in, and we need to improve on our scoring before the second game,” the Fiji coach explained.
Meanwhile Solomon Islands coach Patrick Miniti believes his players failed to rise to the occasion and perform to their best abilities.
“We played well but I still feel, and they know, we could play a little bit better,” he said.
“I think we lost a little bit of our shape and our structure, and I think we were a little bit overwrought by the speed and size of the Fijians, they are big girls with strength and power,” Miniti added.
Vanuatu 0-1 Cook Islands
Local fans who showed up hoping to see a dominant performance from the Cook Islands over Vanuatu had little to cheer about in the first half, as a keenly contested but frustratingly scrappy battle developed between the two sides.
The hosts looked the most likely to open the scoring with Kura Mose threatning in attack, well supported by Moeroa Harmon and Merran Munro.
Despite some good build-up play and probing runs, the Cook Islanders couldn’t get behind the well organised Vanuatu defence and the particularly impressive Annie Rose Gere at the centre of it.
Following a scoreless opening half which failed to produce a clear goalscoring opportunity, the hosts showed far more urgency, and they came agonisingly close to taking the lead in the 55th minute when Jessica Warrington controlled the ball neatly to create some space for herself before smashing a powerful drive against the crossbar.
A minute later Moeroa Harmon’s shoot just cleared the bar from the edge of the box as the hosts started to pile on the pressure.
To their credit Vanuatu didn’t panic and looked to have weathered storm to run the clock down until a dramatic late twist broke their hearts.
Two minutes into injury time, Ngamata Moeka headed home a pinpoint cross from Harmon to snatch an unlikely win to the delight of the home crowd.
Relieved Cook Islands coach Tuka Tisam was pleased with her players’ never-say-die attitude.
“Yeah the girls fought till the end. Vanuatu came out really hard against us, they had chances, we had chances and they left it towards the end of the game but they scored the goal at the end and I’m really proud of them,” he said.
Meanwhile Vanuatu coach Jean Robert Yelou admits it was a heart-breaking way to lose the match, but he is adamant his players must learn from it.
“Yes, very hard but football is like that, you need to concentrate for the whole 90 minutes because anything can happen, even in the last minute,” he said.
“I’m still very proud and happy about the way they performed, we only conceded in injury time, so for the next game we have to work on that and correct it,” he added.