A stunning last-minute save from Matthew Foord ensured New Zealand were crowned OFC U-17 Champions for the ninth time after edging a thrilling contest against an unfortunate New Caledonia side in the 2023 final.

Niko Bruce capitalised on a goalkeeping error in the first half to ensure his nation’s eighth consecutive tournament win despite being reduced to ten men and New Caledonia dominating for large periods in Suva, Fiji.

The game began on a poignant note, with both sides observing an impeccable moment of silence in memory of Ruben Kutran, New Caledonia’s captain at the 2018 edition of this tournament, who passed away in December at just 20 years old.

Perhaps inspired by the possibility of honouring their countryman New Caledonia started on top, hoping to shock the tournament favourites at the HFC Bank Stadium. 

Jean-Philippe Angexetine had his side’s first effort inside the opening minute. Anthony Levy and Jean-Yves Saiko then tested the handling of New Zealand stopper Foord in a frenetic opening quarter.

New Zealand hit back with two good chances of their own. First, Harrison Tisch’s direct corner-kick was headed off the line superbly by Bayron Gohoupe before tournament joint top-scorer Luke Supyk could only loop his headed effort over the bar.

However, the reigning champions’ spell of pressure eventually paid off, with an early substitute the catalyst. Ryan Lee only entered the fray as a replacement after Jackson Cole suffered a blow to the head but it was his deflected cross that goalkeeper Claude Tiaouniane bungled before Bruce smashed home the opener at the second attempt. 

New Caledonia had already demonstrated they would not be pushovers in the opening game of the tournament, New Zealand edging a 3-2 group stage win on that occasion. So it was no surprise to see Léonardo Lopez’s boys respond well.

Influential captain Joseph Hnaissilin drove the initiative from midfield, twice testing Foord from range late in the first half. The second stop was a fine diving save from the Kiwi custodian following the New Caledonia skipper’s elegant pirouette and strike. 

Ten minutes into the second period, Supyk dragged an opportunity to double his side’s lead wide and moments later New Zealand’s advantage became even more perilous when they were reduced to 10 men. 

Defender Luka Coveny, booked late in the first half for a confrontation with David Camha, left referee Veer Singh with no choice but to brandish a second yellow after a professional foul on Nolhann Alebate.

Buoyed by their numerical advantage, New Caledonia upped the pressure but continued to find Foord unflappable while centre-back Dylan Gardiner was also putting in an inspired captain’s performance.

Foord then proved the hero for New Zealand in the final seconds of the game, producing an incredible reflex save from Kyllian Wiako’s close-range header before tipping the resultant corner onto the bar as New Zealand held on.

At the final whistle, New Caledonia’s players sank to their knees while New Zealand’s players erupted in joy at their ninth tournament victory, moving just one behind Australia’s long-standing record of 10.

For New Caledonia, they can take solace from an impressive performance and the consolation of a place alongside the Junior All Whites at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru later this year.



HT: 0-1