Photo Credit: OFC Media via Christophe Fotozz
New Zealand have clinched the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship after a dramatic last-minute winner in Papeete.
With only seconds remaining, Katie Pugh sealed the title for the Kiwis to break Fijian hearts, who had put in a herculean effort.
As expected, New Zealand started the brighter and dominated possession in the opening stages. To their credit, Fiji were resolute and well-drilled and it was notable that the Kiwis were struggling to string passes together in the manner seen earlier in the tournament.
Katie Pugh went closest to opening the score in the first-half when played through the centre but her left-footed shot cannoned back off the post and Fiji escaped.
There was a scrappiness nature to most of the opening 45 minutes, which appeared to suit Angeline Chua’s Fiji side as they kept New Zealand at bay. Goalkeeper Rosalain Sarahphina quick off her mark on a number of occasions, diving at the feet of her opponents to snuff out any attack.
Pugh had another half-chance late in the period, rounding Sarahphina but being unable to convert when the angle narrowed and Fiji managed to clear.
Laura Bennett similarly found space in the box and lifted her effort over the keeper but Fiji’s defence scrambled well to clear once again and keep the scoresheet untroubled.
The Kiwis upped the pace and intensity in the second-half but Fiji continued to hold strong.
Just past the hour mark and New Zealand went agonisingly close. Charli Dunn rose to meet a corner from the right-hand side but her guided header came back off the post much to the relief of the Fijians.
Minutes later midfielder Amber De Wit tried her luck from distance but despite striking the ball well, it flew wide.
With a little under 15 minutes remaining, Pugh once again found herself played in but Sarahphina smothered at her feet well, taking a knock for her troubles.
Pugh came close again, taking advantage of a diagonal ball that was allowed to drop only to see her goal-bound effort blocked.
With the seconds ticking down and penalties looming large, New Zealand finally found the breakthrough. Ela Jerez brought the ball down and slid a perfect slide-rule pass to Katie Pugh and the forward expertly slotted past Sarahphina to win it for the Kiwis.
New Zealand: 1 (Katie PUGH 90+4′)