(Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek)

New Caledonia have got off to a winning start at OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2023 in Fiji with a narrow 1-0 victory over Samoa in Lautoka. 

A second-half wonder-strike from Adran Pawawi was enough to separate the sides in a contest that the Samoans will feel they should have taken something from.

Samoa dominated the early exchanges – played in hot and humid conditions in Lautoka – showing a superior strength and physicality that allowed them to control the ball for long periods of time.

The breakthrough wouldn’t come however despite some probing runs and half-chances, the best of which came early, with Lilly Dowsing firing over from 8 yards out when well placed in the 3rd minute, before Sariah Taeaoalii heading straight at the goalkeeper from inside the six yard box minutes later.

As the half went on, New Caledonia slowly played their way back into proceedings but struggled to create anything in the way of clear-cut chances, restricted by a resolute Samoa defence to long-range efforts, none of which troubled the scoreboard. Arianna Skeers in particular proving a almost insurmountable barrier in the centre of the park.

Samoa started the second-half where they finished the first, pressing for the opening goal and coming within inches of finding it when Taeaoalii took advantage of the defences inability to clear their lines, only to see her delicate chip come back off the underside of the bar.

When the opening goal of the tournament finally did come, it was against the run of play, with the New Caledonians sent into raptures through an outstanding effort from Adran Pawawi.

Picking the ball up 25 yards from goal, she showed excellent footwork to create some space for herself before unleashing a fierce drive which arrowed out of reach of Samoa goalkeeper, Tsehai Viliamu. Surely a very early contender for goal of the tournament.

Samoa – clearly taken aback following going behind – struggled to reassert themselves with the same confidence and accuracy that they had shown in the first half. A series of corners midway through the second-half came to nothing, thanks to brave defending from the New Caledonians and some crucial clearances from ‘keeper Marie-Pierre Atrewe.

As the pace slowed towards the end of the ninety, New Caledonia continued to look a threat on the break, with pacey forward Julia Honakoko offering fresh legs of the bench. Her best chance coming in the 75th minute, where despite breaking clear of the Samoan backline, she dragged her shot wide of the far post.

Samoa continued to probe as time ran out, with their opponents content to sit back and exploit any potential counter-attacking opportunities.

An equaliser nearly materialised in the 90th minute, when Dowsing again showed her considerable pace, breaking free on the right-hand side and with time and space to pick her spot, was thwarted by another outstanding save by Atrewe.

As the seconds ticked away, it was New Caledonia who nearly scored a second goal, when Maria Binet found herself in space in the penalty box but could only divert her header wide.

An excellent start for New Caledonia to kick off their campaign but work to do for the Samoans as they bid to reach the knockout stages.

New Caledonia: 1 (Adran PAWAWI 56′)
Samoa: 0

HT: 0-0