A comprehensive team performance from New Zealand has seen them secure the OFC U-20 Championship title with a 5-0 victory over fellow FIFA U-20 World Cup qualifiers Vanuatu.
New Zealand coach Darren Bazeley said he was incredibly pleased with the win, but it was the performance from his side which impressed him most today.
“I’m very pleased,” he said, “it’s what we wanted.
“We’ve worked very hard to get here and the boys have been brilliant throughout this tournament, and to put on a performance like that in the final was awesome. It’s been an awesome day for us.
“I’m very proud, they’re a great set of lads and we prepared hard for this, and for every single game we played looking at the strengths and weaknesses and how to deal with our opponents. Today it all came together and it was probably the best performance of the tournament.
“It was very professional, not flash, just did our jobs and were very solid as a team, as a unit. We had some good players who went and exposed players at the right time and we put some goals away which was nice.”
New Zealand were dominant from the outset sending Vanuatu’s defence, which had been outstanding throughout their four previous encounters, forcing goalkeeper Willie Dick into action fairly early on.
A decent attack from Vanuatu came through young New Zealand-based fullback Ronaldo Wilkins almost sent Bong Kalo through on goal, but the captain just couldn’t get his toe to the cross.
New Zealand then opened the scoring with a wonderful set piece finish courtesy of lanky centre back Hunter Ashworth who finished neatly behind Dick.
Both midfields were kept busy over the next 20 minutes as the ball ping-ponged from end to end and New Zealand keeper Michael Woud, who had little to do in many of his previous matches, had to make a couple of crucial saves to deny an equaliser.
Thirty minutes in the action swung in New Zealand’s favour as Myer Bevan smacked a shot in which rebounded off the upright back into play for Moses Dyer to pounce.
The second half continued at the same pace as the first, but with Vanuatu making clear attempts to pull themselves back into contention. A chance for Kalo in the 48th minute was denied by Woud and at the other end it was a surprise when New Zealand didn’t extend their lead after the ball bounced around in front of the goal mouth before finally being cleared.
The tide turned against Vanuatu in the 70th minute when Frederick Massing lashed out at Bevan and earned his marching orders from the referee Kader Zitouni of Tahiti, leaving his side to play out the final 20 minutes of the game with just ten men.
New Zealand made the most of their player advantage when in the 76th minute Myer Bevan latched onto a great ball from Dyer to take his side three goal up. Two further goals were awarded to substitute Lucas Imrie who found the back of the net twice in quick succession.
Vanuatu technical advisor Declan Edge said it was a disappointing end to what had been a fantastic tournament for his side.
“Obviously we were pleased with the performance in the first four games where we were very disciplined, not too many yellow cards, not too many yellow cards given away and we kept some order,” Edge said.
“For some reason today that sort of disappeared for a little bit, we were unstructured and undisciplined and we paid the price for that.”
New Zealand also cleaned up in the individual awards with Myer Bevan taking home both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball trophies, while goalkeeper Michael Woud was awarded Golden Gloves. Solomon Islands received the Fairplay Award.
“Those two guys have some back from England, so that’s important, and it will be nice for Sunderland for Mikey and the Nike Academy for Myer, for these two to be going back with accolades,” Bazeley said.
“They released them, it was great that they released them to come back and play in this tournament and hopefully now they’ll see the benefit of that – of having the experience of winning, of playing in the tournament and being successful and picking up awards.
“It’s tough to do in football, you don’t win that many awards so we should really enjoy this now, we’ve worked hard for it.”
In progressing for the final both New Zealand and Vanuatu have qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017.