New Caledonia have finished second in Group A and will join New Zealand in the semi-finals after defeating Tahiti 2-1 in their final group stage match at the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship in Apia, Samoa, this afternoon.
In the opening match of the day, New Zealand continued their unbeaten streak with an 8-0 win over Samoa to claim the top spot in Group A and book their meeting with Cook Islands in the semi-final.
Tremendous defending from the Samoa backline – and a few miracle saves from goalkeeper Meripa Seumanutafa – kept the hosts’ slate clean until the 36th minute when Kelli Brown scored New Zealand first goal of the game.
In the closing minutes of the half, a perfect connection with a corner ball earned Jayda Stewart her first goal of the match but the home team’s chins were held high as they headed into the changing rooms with a close tail on the defending champions.
New Zealand took control of the game in the second half and a pair of goals from Maggie Jenkins in the 56th and 58th minute got the ball rolling for another New Zealand scoring-spree. Stewart added one more to her tally and Macey Fraser got her name on the scoresheet before Brown squeezed in two more in the last 10 minutes.
New Zealand coach Leon Birnie was happy with the performance of his side but credited Samoa for a testing first half.
“It was good to get the three points but credit to Samoa today – that first half especially – it was really challenging for us. They dropped their players off and we struggled at times to get through them,” he said
“I thought our intent was good at times. Execution wasn’t quite on in some areas but it was good to get some goals in the back of the net and another three points.”
Despite the heavy loss, Samoa coach Guillermo Schiltenwolf was pleased with his team’s battle against the giants and very proud of their campaign.
“We were very happy up until the second half. The game plan was working well, but we were playing against New Zealand so we did what we could. It is what it is,” he said.
“It was a great experience for the girls and this was a great tournament. Hopefully in two years we’re going to be here again stronger.”
New Caledonia and Tahiti’s meeting was neck-and-neck for the majority of the first half, with possession switching between the nations and close opportunities testing both backlines and goalkeepers.
Tahiti’s Heipua Kohueinui was the first one to finally find the net, taking a touch at the top of the New Caledonia box before firing the ball past goalkeeper Lorenza Hnamano in the 41st minute and edging Tahiti ahead just before the half-time whistle.
Jackie Pahoa wasted no time finding the equaliser when the teams returned to the field for the second half, breaking through the Tahiti backline and sending the ball past goalkeeper Vahinerii Puraga in the first minute back in play.
Marie-Laure Palene followed up only 10 minutes later after making a run down the line then sending the ball along the ground and under a diving Puraga.
Tahiti fought desperately to regain the lead but New Caledonia dominated possession and held strong in the backline to secure their second win –and second place finish – in Group A.
New Caledonia coach Matthieu Delcroix was overjoyed with the impressive comeback and is feeling confident ahead of the semi-finals after witnessing the strong team spirit and determination of his players tonight.
“It was very hard in the first half. I think Tahiti plays very well. They caused problems for us in the midfield – we were always overloaded – so we made a tactical change in the midfield that was a good option,” he said.
“I’m very proud of my players. They demonstrated very good spirit after the first half. It was a really good game of football with two very good teams.
“I’m confident in my players heading into the semi-final. They have very good team spirit. They want to go to the final and play for their country and show that women’s football in New Caledonia is great.”
Tahiti coach Stephanie Spielmann was heartbroken to exit the competition without a win after coming so close but praised her team for a valiant first experience on the international stage.
I’m really proud of my girls today because they fought from start to end,” she said.
“We came prepared for this match even though we knew it would be our last in the competition. We were unlucky about the result but congratulations to New Caledonia on a great match.
“When we get back to Tahiti we really want to keep the whole team together. We play great football and we know what to do with the ball. We will work hard to come back in two years stronger.”