New Caledonia are through to the semi-finals of the OFC U-17 Championship 2023 after a 4-0 quarter-final victory over Samoa at HFC Bank Stadium in Suva, Fiji.
First-half goals from Jean-Phillippe Angexetine and Nolhann Alebate and late finishes from Jean-Yves Saiko and Iwatro Hmuine earned their nation’s place in the final four, despite being reduced to 10-men in the second-half.
Both teams came into the game full of confidence after thumping wins in their final pool fixtures, Samoa beating Tonga 6-0 and New Caledonia eliminating American Samoa with a 7-0 triumph.
Samoa caused a shock when these two nations met in the last edition of this competition, holding out for a 1-1 draw back in 2018 and New Caledonia started strong in pursuit of payback. Alebate tested Samoa goalkeeper Kirk Auvele twice early on as his side’s pace and movement caused early problems for Desmond Edward’s defensive unit.
But for all their spright in attack it was a simple dead ball that broke the deadlock for Leonardo Lopez’s team. Anthony Levy’s dangerous free-kick found Angexetine unmarked, the attacker flicking a header beyond Auvele in the Samoa goal.
Galvanised by conceding, Samoa came close to equalising immediately. Captain and talisman Pharrell Trainor produced an impressive run and exchange of passes with strike partner Ethelbert Edward, but the off-balance striker could only push his effort wide.
Despite Samoa’s improved play, New Caledonia remained on top and saw two golden opportunities to stretch their lead go awry.
Both fell to opening goalscorer Angexetine, first failing to punish Kingston Vaitusi’s careless touch before sliding another effort wide from six yards out after Auvele could only parry Gregory Diko’s powerful strike.
But on the brink of half-time New Caledonia scored that crucial second goal from the penalty spot. Samoa defender Mitchell McIlraith, who had earlier performed a heroic goal-saving tackle, could not repeat the feat, bringing down Saiko in the box with Alebate finishing well from 12 yards.
Samoa were given a glimmer of hope early in the second period when New Caledonia were reduced to 10 men. Referee Lachlan Keevers was left with no choice but to show Bayron Gohoupe a second yellow card after a mistimed challenge as tempers began to flare in Suva.
Samoa tried in vain to secure a fightback, dangerman Trainor unlucky to see his strike from the edge of the box bounce wide off Claude Tiaouniane’s near post.
But with Samoa pushing hard they were left vulnerable at the back and New Caledonia took full advantage to put the game to bed late on. First, Saiko cleared the bench in celebration with a breakaway finish before substitute Hmuine’s coolly dispatched penalty proved the final kick of the game.
New Caledonia will now face either Tahiti or Tonga, who play later this evening, in the semi-finals on January, 25 with hope of reaching the final of the competition for the first time since 2017.
NEW CALEDONIA 4 (Jean-Philippe ANGEXETINE 13’, Nolhann ALEBATE 45+3′, Jean-Yves SAIKO 88′, Iwatro HMUINE 90+6′)