Defending champions New Zealand overcame a brave challenge from New Caledonia to secure their seventh consecutive regional title and their place at next year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup following an absorbing OFC U-19 Women’s Championship title decider at Rarotonga’s CIFA Academy.
Meanwhile tournament debutants Tahiti have defeated Vanuatu in their play-off for 3rd place to grab the bronze medal in their first ever campaign in the women’s U-19 age group.
New Caledonia 2-5 New Zealand
On the back of four dominant performances in the Cook Islands, the New Zealanders were seen as clear favourites to continue their relentless march towards another OFC crown, but Les Cagous had other ideas.
Through the impressive Jackie Pahoa and Jennifer Neporo, the New Caledonians showed plenty of attacking intent from the outset to put the Gemma Lewis-coached side under pressure.
Following an evenly contested and tense 16 minutes, the defending champions have finally breathed a sigh of relief thanks to Gabi Rennie who was perfectly positioned at the far post to head home a Maggie Jenkins corner.
Despite falling behind, Coralie Breitegnier’s side kept pressing high and pushing players forward to test Kiwi goalkeeper Nadia Olla.
However, with holes opening up at the other end, Aneka Mittendorff gave her side a two goal cushion by smashing into the net from close range after Les Cagous defence failed to clear another Jenkins corner in the 31st minute.
Just three minutes later it should have been 3-nil with Mittendorff heading against the crossbar before Charlotte Wilford Carroll struck the post from the rebound.
Making most of their luck, the New Caledonians have got themselves right back into the game by breaching New Zealand’s watertight defence, for the first time in the tournament, courtesy of Cassidy Cawa’s pinpoint header from a freekick sent in by Jackie Pahoa at the stroke of half time.
With the game on a knife edge, Gabi Rennie have settled New Zealand nerves with a brilliant strike in the 68th minute before Maggie Jenkins finished a fantastic team goal to make it 4-1, four minutes later.
Golden Boot winner Kelli Brown put the result beyond any doubt with a lovely 75th minute strike, to take her tournament tally to a remarkable 21 goals, but there was still time for Jackie Pahoa to respond with a superb long range effort in the 86th minute.
Coach Gemma Lewis heaped praised on her players for the way they handled the pressure put on them in the final.
“New Caledonia came out, they came at us, they were aggressive, they did stuff other teams hadn’t against us and they really put us under the pressure, they came out to win it and they put us under some pressure,” she admitted.
“It’s what the girls wanted, there’s only so much you can take out of 11-0 and 30-0 wins, but this you can work on, they put them under the pump and they put them under pressure. At half time they still had a job to do and there was things to play for.
“I’m very happy with the response in the second half. I think in the first half they kind of let New Caledonia dictate the play and the pace of the game, but the second half we turned it around, we were patient and when we had opportunities we took it,” the New Zealand coach explained.
Her New Caledonian counterpart Coralie Breitegnier was also beaming with pride after the match.
“It was a good performance against a very strong side. Our aim was to win this match, but I’m still very proud with the way we played, the girls were very strong they played their hearts out and they competed till the last minute,” Breitegnier explained.
We scored two very good goals against New Zealand and we have the silver medal, I think our supporters in New Caledonia will be very happy with the way we performed,” added Les Cagous coach.
Tahiti 4-1 Vanuatu
Meanwhile in the earlier kick off between Tahiti and Vanuatu, the French Polynesians looked hungry from the outset to cap their maiden campaign with a win and a podium finish.
Nevertheless it took Stéphanie Spielmann’s side almost half an hour to open the scoring thanks to their leading striker Babou Tepea’s ninths goal of the tournament.
In the second half, captain Kiani Wong doubled the Tahitians’ advantage scoring straight from a corner, before Hereura Chu beat the offside trap and past Vanuatu keeper Rose Simon with a clinical finish in the 57th minute.
Annie Gere pulled a goal back by converting a spotkick following a foul on Daina Sine by Tahiti keeper Corail Harry, before Wong sealed Tahiti’s win with a wonderful long range strike in the final minute.
Spielmann was delighted with the way her side finished the tournament
“We really wanted to play good football, as I mentioned before in other matches, we really wanted to show that in Tahiti we are really working hard and we really want to play an attractive style, and we achieved that today,” she explained.
“We are so happy with the entire tournament, if you look a little bit back it’s the best experience we could have wished for. We’ve played 5 games, we played against New Zealand, we played against different countries, different styles. We’ve had a penalty shoot-out, we’ve have extra time and now we finish with a victory and a bronze medal in this competition, and we’ve played well, it’s perfect,” Spielmann enthused.
Despite the defeat, Vanuatu coach Jean Robert Yelou was also proud of his players, who had to work especially hard after arriving in the Cook Islands with the smallest squad.
“The fatigue is the most thing that destroyed my team. I’ve been playing all five games with the same players for 90 minutes, and it’s not easy for them,” said Yelou.
“I’m very proud of my girls, they did the best and they did better than what I was expecting, so I can praise them for that.
“This is a very good experience for us. They played good football, technically they were good. They were everywhere here. We did our best we had a lot of chances but we didn’t convert but for me it’s a good experience,” added the Vanuatu coach.
OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2019 Awards
Fair Play Award – Solomon Islands
Golden Gloves – Corail Harry (Tahiti)
Golden Boot – Kelli Brown (New Zealand)
Golden Ball – Grace Wisnewski (New Zealand)