Reigning champions New Zealand cruised past Vanuatu to set up a showdown with Les Cagous for the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship crown, after the New Caledonians overcame their francophone rivals Tahiti in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in the day’s opening semi-final at Rarotonga’s CIFA Academy.
Tahiti 0-0 New Caledonia (Tahiti 6-7 New Caledonia after penalties)
Meanwhile New Zealand have kept their title defence on track with another convincing victory to sweep into the final.
With only five minutes on the clock, Ava Collins found Kelli Brown who hit the crossbar before finishing the rebound from close range.
The Golden Boot favourite grabbed her second to double New Zealand’s advantage with a neat finish from the edge of the box, before Gabi Rennie tapped in for a three goal lead.
Brown completed her hat-trick by pouncing on a ball spilled by Vanuatu keeper Rose Simon, before skipper Maggie Jenkins got her name on the scoresheet to make it 5-nil at the break.
Jenkins wasted a golden opportunity to extend the Kiwis’ lead after failing to convert a penalty she won for her side just minutes into the second half.
However, it mattered little as the New Zealand juggernaut rolled on with Ava Collins volleying home and Brown adding another with a brilliant header.
Grace Wisnewski made it 8-0, before Kelli Brown popped up in the right spot for her fifth of the match and her 20th of the tournament, by following up from Gabi Rennie’s shot coming off the post.
Rennie was replaced by Lara Wall, who made an immediate impact courtesy of a superb strike into the top left corner, before Wisnewski picked out the bottom left corner with a lovely drive to seal another dominant win for the Kiwis.
New Zealand coach Gemma Lewis was pleased with the way her players secured their passage to the title decider.
“It was a semi-final and we wanted to put our stamp on it, and the girls did really well,” she said.
Lewis also had a special mention for her leading striker, before pointing out the contribution the rest of her team makes to keep the goals coming.
“Kelli Brown puts in a lot of goals, she turns up at the right places but in terms of how the ball gets to those positions, it’s a team performance in that regards,” explained the coach.
The New Zealanders are yet to concede in the tournament, but despite the limited amount of challenge they face at the back, Lewis insists the entire defence need to stay focused and ready for their test to come.
“It’s a challenge for them, so we encourage them to get on the ball as much as they can and be involved in plays but yes we’re hoping not to concede in this tournament if we can,” the New Zealand coach said.
Meanwhile, Vanuatu coach Jean Robert Yelou didn’t look for excuses.
“This result is no surprise for me. I knew New Zealand were better technically and physically so they were all over us,” he admitted.
“But it’s good for the girls to reach the semi-finals and play against a team like New Zealand to see where the Vanuatu team is now, especially for the women’s team.
“I’m not making any excuses for the performance, we made it through to semi-finals and that’s a huge achievement for these girls and playing against a team like New Zealand will help them improve more,” added the Vanuatu coach.