(Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek)
New Caledonia have all but sealed their place in the knockout stages at OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2023 in Fiji with a dominant display as they swept aside Vanuatu at Churchill Park in Lautoka.
A flurry of three goals in 12 first-half minutes set them on their way to victory, including one of the strikes of the tournament so far from Julia Honakoko.
Having narrowly overcome Samoa in their opening Group A match, New Caledonia knew victory today would surely confirm their progression to the quarter-finals in Suva next week and they wasted no time in ensuring their stay in Fiji would be an extended one.
The clock showed seven minutes when Laëtitia Leme – a OFC Women’s Champions League winner with AS Academy Féminine earlier in the month – pounced on some slack passing at the back before rounding the goalkeeper and finishing via a desperate deflection from Vanuatu defender Nellie Vuti.
Honakoko’s stunning strike doubled the lead, arrowing an effort from fully 25-yards into the top-corner of the net, with ‘keeper Rolingzel Worek helpless as the ball flashed past her grasp.
A third followed minutes later, when a corner from the left evaded everyone in the penalty box, only to find Caroline Naaoutchoue, who showed composure and patience, chesting the ball down before slamming an effort low into the far corner.
Vanuatu’s attempts to reassert themselves in the contest started to bear fruit late in the half but they struggled to create clear-cut chances, with Valerie Viralolokwai’s cross from the right almost finding the far corner if not for the intervention of goalkeeper Marie-Pierre Atrewe.
Worek denied a fourth New Caledonia goal late in the half when she smothered at the feet of Honakoko when through on goal.
Vanuatu needed an early goal in the second half and it duly came, just 6 minutes after the whistle, when Rebina Woka broke down the left-hand side in acres of space, before her cross looped over Atrewe and landed in the far corner to give her side hopes of a comeback.
They continued to push for a second but couldn’t materialise attempts to truly trouble Atrewe in the New Caledonia goal.
Their failure to capitalise on territorial advantage came back to haunt them when substitute Ronaldine Hnaune put the result beyond doubt. Honakoko found herself in space on the right-hand side and after her initial cross was blocked, her second attempt found Hnaune, who’s bouncing shot deceived Worek and squirmed past the Vanuatu stopper.
A number of second-half changes from both sides stifled the flow of the match, not reaching the pace and intensity of the first period.
Victory for New Caledonia sees them almost certain to progress to the quarter-finals, whilst Vanuatu know a win in their final group game against Samoa on Tuesday should be enough to see their adventure continue.
New Caledonia: 4 (Laëtitia LEME 7′, Julia HONAKOKO 17′, Caroline NAAOUTCHOUE 19′, Ronaldine HNAUNE 62′)
Vanuatu: 1 (Rebina WOKA 51′)