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New Zealand reaffirm favouritism, American Samoa claim bragging rights

Tahiti skipper Kiani Wong tackling Gabbie Rennie with the ball (phototek)

Defending champions New Zealand have produced a thoroughly professional and convincing performance against Tahiti to notch up their second win from as many matches, while American Samoa edged past Samoa in a keenly contested encounter to record a famous and emotional triumph over their Pacific rivals on Match Day 4 at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in the Cook Islands.

New Zealand 5-0 Tahiti

On the back of their ruthless opener against Samoa, New Zealand were eager to once again show intent from the outset against Tahiti, and they looked odds on to continue their dominant ways after racing to a 3-nil lead inside 15 minutes at Rarotonga’s CIFA Academy.

Kelli Brown, who netted a record-breaking 11 times against Samoa, was the first to threaten by rattling the crossbar from distance, not to be outdone by her strike partner Maggie Jenkins who stepped up to convert from the penalty spot after the referee spotted a handball inside the Tahiti box.

It looked as the floodgates were to open when Brown got in the action with two quick goals, the first with a low drive and the second from close range, before the Tahitians have settled their nerves to stem the flow.

Despite a wave of attacks by the New Zealanders, who were backed by a strong wind blowing across the field, Tahiti have kept their shape and structure to limit the damage before Brown struck again completing her hat-trick, tapping in at the stroke of  half-time.

The second period saw a far more subdued New Zealand side as the game developed into an even contest with chances at both ends.

However, that didn’t stop the indomitable Brown grabbing her fourth of the match after rounding up the keeper to take her tournament tally to 15 goals.

New Zealand’s clinical performance was somewhat soured  by a serious injury to Mackenzie Barry, who was forced to leave the field after falling on her right arm in the 75th minute.

Since New Zealand coach Gemma Lewis had already emptied her substitute bench, the Kiwis finished the match with ten players, however with neither side able to fully refocus following the injury the sting went out of the contest.

Lewis confirmed Barry’s injury had a major impact on the team’s performance in the final part of the match.

“It hit the girls pretty hard. She is a really big member of our squad so it was really hard for the girls to keep going to just see out the game, but their mind wasn’t really focused on the game and they were more focused on Mackenzie,” the New Zealand coach said.

Meanwhile, Tahiti coach Stéphanie Spielmann was proud of the way her team rose to the challenge and competed with Oceania’s top side.

“We are really happy about today. We knew it would be a hard test but at half-time we spoke together and decided to get stronger and to really stay together,” she explained.

“In the second half we hoped to keep the score 4-0 and at the end we just conceded one more goal, so we finished the game with New Zealand at 5-0, which we can say is a good score,” insisted Spielmann.

”We don’t have in Tahiti many strong opponents, so at the start our girls were too kind and not too strong, and it was only after the first three goals that they woke up and be stronger but after that stayed together and played a good game,” the Tahiti coach added.

American Samoa 3-2 Samoa

Pacific football rivalry doesn’t come much fiercer than that of between neighbours and cousins American Samoa and Samoa.

And those who anticipated another keenly contested affair at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship weren’t left disappointed.

Determined to make amends for their devastating opening defeat to New Zealand, the Samoans threw everything they had to impose their will on their opponents during the early exchanges.

Led by their impressive striker Zoe Ruby, Samoa looked a different side to the one that was taught a footballing lesson only a few days ago.

And their efforts were soon rewarded courtesy of Ruby’s strike from inside the box in the 11th minute.

Ruby missed a golden chance to double her side’s lead in the 24th minute, when  her shot just dribbled wide of the left post, and American Samoa took advantage the best possible way two minutes later courtesy of Oloa Tofaeono who slotted home after rounding up Destiny Kapisi.

Elcy Lui turned the match in the favour of American Samoa from the penalty spot following a foul on Tofaeono by Kapisi, before adding another, scoring directly from a corner just three minutes before the half-time break.

The industrious Ruby came close to pull one back soon after the re-start with another shot narrowly missing the post, before Tofaeono missed a chance at the other end to put the result beyond any doubt.

With the game opening up and producing opportunities for both sides, Ruby grabbed her second from close range to set up a grandstand finish with little more than ten minutes on the clock.

However, the American Samoans held their nerves to narrowly edge past their rivals for a famous win to the delight of their coach.

“It’s hard for me to put it into words but you could see it in the emotion of my girls it means a lot to us,” said Stephen Settle.

“We’ve prepared for this, and they pulled together and they played for one another and they played for everybody back home and all the teams that have come before them on the men’s and women’s side and for them this a very special moment for the girls,” the proud and emotional American Samoa coach added.

Meanwhile his Samoa counterpart Lanuola Mulipola was also full of praise of her players despite the defeat.

“The girls tried their best, but it all comes down to their fitness level and their preparations before they come out to play,” she said.

“I keep telling them to never give up, and they didn’t stop, they tried their best.

I’m proud of my girls and their performance, we almost managed to draw at the end, they were trying their best even late in the second half, but American Samoa was strong in the back and their defending was hard,” added Mulipola.

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