Photo Credit: OFC Media via Kirk Corrie
New Zealand have beaten hosts Fiji in Suva to win the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship for a record-extending eighth time and confirm their place at the 2024 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Colombia.
An outstanding display from captain Manaia Elliott was the driving force for the defending champions, scoring twice in the first-half and setting up another as the Kiwis took control in the opening 45 minutes at HFC Bank Stadium.
New Zealand threatened from the off, pinning Fiji deep in their half and able to quell any threats of counter-attacks from the hosts.
Fiji looked to rely on the pace and athleticism of Preeya Singh and Kasanita Tabua to create chances but more often than not found themselves swamped by their opponents defence.
Manaia Elliott, selected as captain for the match by Head Coach Leon Birnie, broke the deadlock after thirteen minutes, played through on the right-hand edge of the penalty area and slamming the ball past goalkeeper Mereseini Waqali to make it 1-0.
Kiara Bercelli came close to doubling the lead moments later but could only lift her effort over the keeper and wide of the near post. Kasanita Tabua’s free-kick from distance had power but failed to trouble Aimee Feinberg-Danieli in the New Zealand net.
The lead was doubled on the half-hour mark, again through Manaia Elliott. Helena Errington’s free-kick from around 25 yards was spilled by Waqali and Elliott reacted before the Fiji defence to poke the ball home via the left-hand post.
Ten minutes later Elliott was instrumental in adding a third for the reigning champions, cutting back for Ella McCann to score from close-range after McCann had initially got her head to a Emma Pijnenburg free-kick from near half-way.
A number of substitutions for the hosts gave them an added impetus and directness in the second period but still they struggled to carve out efforts on goal.
New Zealand, not quite matching their first period intensity were still dangerous, especially in wide areas and it was from wide on the left that the fourth goal came, when full-back Zoe McMeeken crossed low for Ruby Nathan to add to her tournament tally from close-range.
Fiji began to grow into the half and gain some territorial ascendancy but were limited to chances from set-pieces. Preeya Singh troubling New Zealand goalkeeper Feinberg-Danieli with a wicked cross from the right, the stopper indebted to her defence for clearing after she spilled an attempted catch.
Ruby Nathan got her second with just under 25 minutes remaining when she ran onto a perfectly weighted through ball from substitute Charlotte Mortlock and expertly arrowed her effort across Waqali and into the far corner.
Mortlock herself would get on the scoresheet after Waqali had smothered to save well from substitute Zoe Benson, with Mortlock reacting quickly to roll the ball into the unguarded net.
Nathan was again key as New Zealand added a seventh, on this occasion being brought down by ‘keeper Waqali in the box. Emma Pijnenburg, having taken the captain’s armband from Elliott after her departure, calmly lifted her spot-kick into the top corner.
Fiji almost found their consolation goal when great play from Preeya Singh sent Seruwaia Laulaba clear down the left and her low cross was cleared away in the knick of time by Ella McMillan with the goal gaping.
For New Zealand, they can now prepare to take on the world’s best at the 2024 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Colombia next year.
New Zealand: 7 (Manaia ELLIOTT 13′, 30′, Ella MCCANN 40′, Ruby NATHAN 52′, 66′, Charlotte MORTLOCK ’75, Emma PIJNENBURG PEN 78′)