New Zealand have successfully defended their OFC U-19 Championship title with a hard fought 1-0 win over their hosts Tahiti at Stade Pater this evening.
After qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time in ten years, Tahiti started the contest on the front-foot with some good counter attacks only for their final ball into the attacking third to lack a cutting edge.
New Zealand meanwhile enjoyed the majority of possession but for much of the game, struggled to turn that into a threat to Tahiti’s goal.
Having failed to break down their opponents, both teams went into the break scoreless.
The New Zealanders came back into the second half with more purpose and after a couple of changes early on they started to look more threatening out wide.
Tahiti captain Roonui Tehau had the best opportunity in the opening minutes of the second half when his free-kick was tipped over by New Zealand custodian Cameron Brown.
The defining moment arrived moments later at the other end when Matthew Conroy ran down the right before pulling back an inch perfect ball for an arriving Trevor Zwetsloot who smashed it past Moana Pito.
The hosts had a brilliant chance to force the final to extra time but striker Eddy Kaspard missed from close range.
While New Zealand had the game in hand at the final whistle neither coach will be particularly pleased with the behaviour of at least one of their players as New Zealander Max Mata and Tahiti’s Hauragi Huri were both shown red cards.
New Zealand coach Des Buckingham was gave credit to both host Tahiti and his own teams’ achievements at the tournament.
“It was a very tough game and you can see the work Tahiti has put in over the past year they were very hard to break down,” he said.
“To come here and win the championship and for New Zealand and Tahiti to go on and represent the region next year is great.”
The Englishman stressed his young team will go back home and refocus on preparation toward the World Cup next year.
“We’ll get back and work on putting something together that’s better than what we had coming into this.
“We hope to also work together with Tahiti to represent Oceania well at the world cup,” Buckingham added.
Tahiti coach Bruno Tehaamoana shared his team’s disappointment at the result, although he gave his player’s credit for their effort in the final.
“It’s a disappointment, we prepared well for this match and I’d like to congratulate my team they did incredibly well in this game”, he said.
“We weren’t effective enough tonight, that’s sport. The kids prepared well, even if we lost we have to keep our heads high because we have had a fantastic tournament.”
Like Buckingham, Tehaamoana is already thinking ahead to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland.
The Tahitian coach insisted local clubs in Tahiti need to work together him to prepare the team well for the World Cup.
“We hope the clubs won’t play them straight away, give them a break after all the effort they’ve put in since June.
“In 10 days I think we’ll start thinking about how we’ll start preparing with our team, because there’s some major preparations that need to be undertaken ahead of the world cup,” he added.