New Zealand have won their sixth consecutive OFC U-17 Championship title – and seventh overall , after defeating fellow FIFA U-17 World Cup qualifiers New Caledonia 7-0 in the final of the 2017 edition at Stade Pater in Tahiti tonight.
Max Mata netted twice as six different scorers contributed to New Zealand’s biggest ever win over New Caledonia at this level.
Although New Zealand were far slower to score than in previous matches, the young squad dominated possession in the New Caledonia half from the starting whistle until finally sinking their first goal when Elijah Just connected with a throw-in from Josh Rogerson and found the back of the net on his first touch.
Only three minutes later, defender Liberato Cacace increased New Zealand’s lead when his long range attempt from out wide bounced off the back post and into goal.
The New Caledonians lifted for the rest of the half and held the young Kiwi’s at 2-0 until the whistle blew, but the show had only just started for the New Zealand, who peaked in their second half and displayed some of their best football of the tournament.
Max Mata found his groove in the 62nd minute when he met a free kick from Elijah Just and headed the ball in the back of the net to make it three for New Zealand. Mata followed it up with a second only five minutes later when he profited off another Elijah Just free kick, receiving the ball in front of goal then turning and firing past Germain Ita.
Mata retired to the bench after his double contribution to give Charles Spragg a run. The striker wasted no time on the field, using his first touch of the ball to send a perfect through ball to Matthew Conroy who slotted the ball past Germain Ita. He used his second touch to get his own name on the sheet and bring New Zealand’s tally up to six for the match and his personal tally for the tournamant to a golden-boot winning seven goals.
Matthew Palmer sunk the last goal of the night in the first minute of additional time after replacing Conroy only twelve minutes earlier.
Despite New Zealand’s huge lift after a slow performance against Papua New Guinea in the semi-final, New Caledonia had moments of strong possession, especially in the starting minutes of the second half, and threatened the New Zealand goal multiple times throughout the 90 minutes.
Vita Longue got the closest to the New Zealand goal with a threatening run down the middle of the in the first ten minutes of the game, but the New Caledonian striker was shut down by Liberato Cacace and the New Zealanders regained control of the game.
The Francophones dropped intensity as the New Zealand goal tally increased and the side dropped their heads, but Germain Ita kept the score below double digits by pulling off several impressive saves, most notably in the first half when the keeper caught a volley attempt form Liberato Cacace off an Elijah Just corner kick.
New Zealand’s winning continued after the final whistle, with New Zealand’s Charles Spragg picking up both Golden Boot and Golden Ball for the tournament, New Zealand’s Zac Jones receiving the Golden Glove award, and the side also taking home the Fairplay Award.
Calm and collected despite winning the competition and taking home five trophies, New Zealand coach Danny Hay said he was just pleased to see his young side perform at a level he knew they were capable of.
“I’m really pleased. I’m really pleased for the players, first and foremost, really complete performance tonight,” he said.
“We wanted to finish on a high and show people what we’re capable of and we played some outstanding stuff today.”
Despite the competition title at stake in the final clash, Hay used the opportunity to experiment with different combinations on the field, and was stoked to see it pay off so well.
“We had some different players playing tonight, played a slightly different formation,” he said.
“We’re with these players a very limited time so right throughout the tournament we’ve been finding out about them and what formation is probably best for us as well.”
Hay and the New Zealand team depart home tomorrow, but the hard work is definitely not over for the champions as they get stuck into their preparation for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
“We’re going to get back to New Zealand and then try and put a plan in place around how we approach the World Cup,” he said.
“The players are going to have to go home and starting working. They’ve got to maintain some real form to be picked for the World Cup squad.”
With his side’s relaxed attitude building up to the final match, New Caledonia coach Michel Clarque was not surprised with the slower performance compared to their high stakes semi-final against Solomon Islands.
“Over the last couple of days I could feel there was a drop in the group. I could see it from the kick off and the way the players got into the game, I had the feeling that it was going to be a tough night for us,” he said.
“When you know before the final that you have already qualified you tell yourself that you’ve reached the goal and unconsciously there’s a drop.”
Despite the heavy loss in their final match, Clarque is finding solace in his side’s qualification in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, and was grateful to have the opportunity to face a fellow World Cup qualifier to get a taste of the top level ahead of October.
“This was an opportunity for each of my players to participate in this adventure. Today was the first step of our preparation for India,” he said.
“Now we have to take some time to analyse what went well and what didn’t during the tournament, then we’ll be able to work better in the months before the World Cup.”