Photo Credit: OFC Media via Christophe Fotozz
Four nations remain in the hunt for the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship and a place at the 2024 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in the Dominican Republic as the semi-finals kick-off this weekend in Papeete, Tahiti.
Hosts Tahiti open proceedings on Saturday afternoon (Tahiti local time) when they take on Fiji, whilst New Zealand face Tonga later on the same day, with a spot in Tuesday’s final up for grabs.
The Tahitians will be hoping for a partisan crowd to give them backing against Fiji. Two second-half goals, from Turere Tupahururu and Willany Kautai respectively, helped them recover from a goal down to overcome Tonga and take top spot in Group B.
They will also be hoping for another impressive performance from experienced captain Haranui Le Gayic, who has been the principal creative force for her side.
As for the Fijians, they looked impressive in their 4-0 victory over the Cook Islands that confirmed they qualified in second place in Group A behind New Zealand. Captain Kasanita Tabua – voted Player of the Match in that fixture – has been a standout performer as her nation look to make it to another OFC competition final, having done so already this year in the U-19 Women’s Championship and Men’s Olympic Qualifier respectively.
In the day’s second semi-final, tournament favourites New Zealand will be looking to continue their imperious form when they take on Tonga, who impressed in securing second place in Group A.
Despite the disappointment of surrendering a 1-0 lead to Tahiti in their final group fixture, Lafaele Moala’s team will be hoping to rebound and give the Kiwis an awkward 90 minutes in their quest for a dream final appearance.
In Tama’a Faletau, Tonga also possess one of the in-form strikers at the tournament. The centre forward notched six goals across her three group stage appearances and will hoping for more success when facing a resolute New Zealand defence, who have shipped only one goal so far in Papeete.
The Kiwis overwhelmed Vanuatu in their final Group B assignment, running out 27-0 winners and will be confident of maintaining their momentum heading into the semi-finals.
The wealth of options available to Head Coach Leon Birnie has allowed him to rotate his side heavily throughout their first three games and there will be no concerns over fitness and fresh legs when up against the Tongans.
Dealing with the attacking prowess of the aforementioned Faletau will likely be front of mind for New Zealand, though with an ‘attack as the best form of defence’ approach proving fruitful thus far, dominating possession will be key in limiting service to the Tonga forward.
Whilst a Play-off for 3rd place will provide a consolation prize for the two losing semi-finalists, all focus remains on who will advance to Tuesday’s showpiece final and the opportunity to represent Oceania on the world stage next year in the Dominican Republic.
OFC U-16 Women’s Championship 2023
Tahiti v Fiji | WATCH LIVE
New Zealand v Tonga | WATCH LIVE