Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek
New Zealand will defend their OFC U-19 Women’s Championship against Fiji on Saturday evening after overcoming a predictably tough and resolute Cook Islands side at HFC Bank Stadium.
Cook Islands, who overcame Vanuatu in the Quarter-Finals, have enjoyed an incredible run to the final four and showed their trademark resolve, holding out New Zealand for the opening quarter of the match in Suva.
They were in part indebted to goalkeeper Kimberly Uini, who produced a number of excellent saves to keep the defending champions at bay. Tipping around the post from a low Helena Errington shot after 11 minutes before saving at point-blank range from Lara Colpi when a goal seemed certain.
Uini arguably produced her best stop minutes later when Ella McCann was played through on goal but when trying to round the goalkeeper, was smothered excellently by the sprawling Uini.
Eventually however the dominance took its’ toll and the Kiwis found the opening goal through an unfortunate own goal from Tearoa Rouru. After Colpi had this time successfully rounded Uini, her shot ricocheted off the post and into the backtracking Rouru before nestling in the corner.
A second arrive minutes later when Colpi, again at the heart of the New Zealand attack, found space on the left-hand side before playing the ball across the face of goal for Emma Pijnenburg to hook high into the net.
Cook Islands struggled to get out from their own half, with the tireless Hereatea Mapu working hard as the sole forward to try and relief the pressure when possible.,
New Zealand added one further strike before the half-time whistle when Lara Colpi was found by substitute Zoe Benson, finishing at the second attempt after being denied initially by another outstanding Uini block.
Cook Islands refused to capitulate in the second-half, showing continued resolve to keep the scoreboard at 3-0 for much of the second 45.
Ella McCann went close when found by another Colpi square ball but could only slice her effort wide when well placed. McCann came even closer in the 63rd minute but her goal-bound effort was stopped yet again by the excellent Uini from close range.
It took until the 70th minute for New Zealand to add to their total. Substitute Ruby Nathan, who was been impressive against Solomon Islands in the Quarter-Final, found herself one-on-one with Uini after fellow sub Ella McMillan’s through ball was deflected into her path, making no mistake as she slid the ball under the onrushing keeper.
Colpi rattled the crossbar from a Nathan cut-back before Nathan crossed low for Kiara Bercelli to get her name on the scoresheet. Player of the Match Uini still had time to add to her repertoire of saves denying Nathan at the death, blocking her volley from yards out.
Both sides have assignments on Saturday, with New Zealand through to face hosts Fiji in the Final whilst for Cook Islands a player-off for 3rd place beckons against Samoa.
New Zealand: 5 (Own Goal 22′, Emma PIJNENBURG 26′, Lara COLPI 45+2′, Ruby NATHAN 70′, Kiara BERCELLI 87′)
Cook Islands: 0