Following an action-packed day of football at Rarotonga’s CIFA Academy, Group C winners New Caledonia have secured their place in the final four of the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2019 tournament with a hard-fought win over Tonga.
Meanwhile in Group A, Vanuatu have kept their competition hopes alive with a comfortable win over the Solomon Islands, and will face a crucial final match against group leaders Fiji, who took a huge step towards the knock-out stage by edging past hosts Cook Islands in a thriller.
New Caledonia 4-2 Tonga
With only three teams in Group C, New Caledonia didn’t need extra motivation to follow up their opener against Papua New Guinea with another winning performance, and secure their place in the semis with maximum six points from two matches.
However, the Tongans had other ideas and wasted little time to make their intentions clear through Lositika Feke who showed plenty of composure to beat Les Cagous keeper Brigitte Wadra in a one-on-one situation on the 6th minute mark.
With terrific pace to the game both sides were willing to press high and push players forward in search of opportunities, keeping both goalkeepers on their toes.
Backing up her impressive performance against Papua New Guinea, Jennifer Neporo looked particularly lively and she almost squared the ledger in the 41st minute with a wonderful strike from the edge of the box that crashed against the crossbar.
Neporo’s attacking zeal was finally rewarded at the stroke of half-time when she headed home a pinpoint cross from Jackie Poha to ensure the two sides went to the sheds on level teams at the break.
Just minutes into the second stanza Les Cagous were celebrating again as Cassidy Cawa bundled the ball over the line after a goalmouth scramble.
Tonga threw everything they had to get back into the game forcing a number of saves from Wadra, however New Caledonia struck again in deadly fashion, courtesy of two goals in quick succession by Joana Boula to put the result beyond any doubt with just ten minutes to go.
To their credit the Tongans fought till the end, pulling a goal back thanks to a superb 86th minute freekick by Ana Polovili to reduce the final score to 4-2.
Following her side’s qualification to the knock-out stage, Les Cagous coach Coralie Breitegner couldn’t hide her delight.
“I am very proud of my team…this was a good victory for us to keep us in the tournament and to move through to the next round,” enthused Breitegner.
“We had difficulties at the start but I think we rectified this in the second half. At half-time we asked them to be at their best when on the ball and to think as if we had restarted the game at nil-all and it paid off, said the New Caledonia coach.
Meanwhile her Tonga counterpart Lafaele Moala remained philosophical after the defat.
“I’m very pleased with their performance but my players lost focus and gave up some free goals for New Caledonia, but in saying that, they are still learning and this is not the end for them,” he explained.
“Like I said they lost control and gave away some free goals for New Caledonia and didn’t stick to our game plan but at the end they tried to stick to the game plan and I’m very glad and proud of the girls performance.
“This is not the end of the world, this is just the beginning, they have a lot of room for improvement for the next competition,” added the Tonga coach.
Vanuatu 4-0 Solomon Islands
After both suffering defeats on Match Day 1, Monday’s second fixture presented Melanesian rivals Vanuatu and Solomon with do-or-die encounter.
Following a nervous start, Vanuatu have gradually asserted their dominance and deservedly took the lead in the 20th minute through Cynthia Ngwele’s well-hit strike from inside the box.
Bindy Erikan doubled the advantage thanks to a wonderful through ball from Annie Gere, which helped her to beat the offside trap before rounding up the Solomon keeper Serah Alpefolocia in the 36th minute.
Using her impressive pace, Erikan passed her defender on the right before finding the net with a brilliant drive to grab her second and Vanuatu’s third in the final minute of the first half.
With the sting taken out of the match, the second period saw a far more even contest with chances at both ends, before Daina Sine sealed the 4-0 victory for Vanuatu by finding the net from close range following a scramble in front of the Solomon goal in the 79th minute.
The win keeps Vanuatu’s Group A hopes alive ahead of their match with Fiji, while the Solomon Islands will only have their pride to play for in their final match against hosts Cook Islands.
Despite the win Vanuatu coach Jean Robert Yelou admits his players still have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to compete with the best.
“Yes, this was a good performance, not too good but the important thing is that we got 3 points on the table,” he said
“We learnt a lot especially in terms of finishing, we also improved our running but we still have a lot to work on. But I’m happy with some of the improvements from the first game.
“For many of my players this is their first time playing in an international game, also away from home…even though back home we had some difficulties with the women’s leagues, they did what we expected from them and that’s all we can ask for,” explained the Vanuatu coach.
Meanwhile, Solomon Islands coach Patrick Miniti rued his side’s slow start.
“It was tough, and we talked about it, not to let goals go in inside the first 20 minutes, but they scored some good goals and we can’t say we didn’t make an effort but they outplayed us and that was excellent on their part, but we’ll have to go back to the drawing board and work on our defence,” he lamented.
“We did not play the way we wanted for reasons that we have to assess and to work on for the next game, I think we were quite indecisive and that didn’t help,” explained Miniti.
Cook Islands 0-1 Fiji
A passionate and vocal home crowd has created a lively atmosphere for the final match of the day between hosts Cook Islands and Fiji at the CIFA Academy.
With both teams securing opening round victories, the significance of the upcoming 90 minutes was not lost on anybody.
Following some probing attacks at both ends, the hosts were the first to find their rhythm, dominating ball as well as territorial possession for the majority of the first half.
By midway through the first period the Cook Islanders were piling on the pressure with Ngametua Taringa and Ngamata Moekaa both coming close to scoring with powerful strikes, before Kura Mose hitting the crossbar and Moekaa forcing another great save from the busy Fiji custodian Maria Parr.
Fiji skipper Koleta Likuculacula offered some attacking thrust to the Fijians with darting runs on the left wing but the visitors could consider themselves somewhat lucky to be still on level terms in the break.
With tension building after the interval, it was Likuculacula who stamped her authority on the proceedings by heading home from a corner to settle her team’s nerves.
The hosts remained determined to get back into the game with headers from both Moekaa and Taring just inches away from their target.
Meanwhile the Fijians looked dangerous on the counter with Vitalina Naikore missing two golden chances to double her side’s advantage.
However, at the end it didn’t matter as the Fiji captain’s lone goal proved to be enough to decide the thrilling encounter.
Following the final whistle Fiji coach Sunil Kumar admitted his side needed a bit of luck to secure the win.
“I’m really relieved,” he said.
“Just like I said on Friday it will be a tough game and indeed it was a tough challenge to come out with the three points is really good for us.
“I think during the second half, I could see a bit of urgency in my team especially in attack. My captain Koleta was a bit down in the first half and I told her to pick up her game and she did and she managed to score,” added Kumar.
“We planned to come and defend well and to keep our positions right while defending and that’s why we kept the Cook Islands at bay with the score.
“But I would say that in the second half we came out better compared to the first half,” explained the Fiji coach.
Despite the defeat, Cook Islands coach Tuka Tisam was adamant her players could hold their heads high.
Really happy with the performance of the girls, we trained for it, they did really well and they worked really hard but unfortunately they didn’t put their chances away in this game and Fiji put their chances away,” said the disappointed Cook Islands coach.
“We had a few opportunities in the first half but hat’s football and second half we tried to come out with something but didn’t happen for us,”
“I think we were about similar with Fiji in terms of our playing style, they had their strength and we had our strength and yes were pretty much about the same,” Tisam said.