(Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek)
Seven times defending champions New Zealand have overcome a stern challenge from hosts Fiji to get their OFC U-19 Women’s Championship campaign off to a winning start.
Leon Birnie’s side have won 3-0 thanks to goals from Emma Pijnenburg and a second-half brace from Rebekah Trewhitt.
New Zealand dominated possession from the outset and Trewhitt and Manaia Elliott had half chances they couldn’t convert.
Pijnenburg’s goal in the 15th minute was all class. The Dutch-based striker collected the ball outside the box, looked up to see Fijian keeper Mereseini Waqali off her line and expertly shot from outside the box over a despairing Waqali and into the right-hand corner of the net.
Fiji were forced into an early change when Sonia Alfred who played for Labasa Women FC at the recent OFC Women’s Champions League in Papua New Guinea was forced off with an injury in the 20th minute and replaced by Narieta Leba.
New Zealand came close to doubling their lead a couple of minutes later when Manaia Elliott fired a long range shot onto the outside of the post.
Fiji continued to push forward on the counter and started to retain possession in the middle stages of the half, enjoying their best spell of the match.
The home side had a glorious chance to equalise in the 26th minute when Leba stepped inside a defender and thundered a shot that New Zealand keeper Aimee Feinberg-Danieli crucaially tipped onto the underside of the crossbar. The rebound was cleared by the Kiwi defence.
Still Fiji pressed and created another couple of half chances with the New Zealand defence at sixes and sevens.
Luse Ratulele headed wide of the post 10 minutes from halftime and a couple of minutes later Fijian defender Angeline Rekha received a yellow card for a late challenge on Manaia Elliott.
New Zealand would have felt they marginally shaded the first half and they started the brighter of the teams in the second with Waqali forced into action early. Ruby Nathan and Kiara Bercelli combined but the cross was just close enough for Waqali to gather.
Charlotte Mortlock had a good chance to extend the lead 15 minutes into the second half but her side footed shot from 12 yards out was fired straight at the keeper, whilst a minute later defender Marie Green headed just wide from a corner.
The pressure was building on the Fijians and New Zealand doubled their lead in the 65th minute when Waqali parried a free kick into the path of Trewhitt who placed the ball into the open net.
Nine minutes later Trewhitt effectively sealed the result with her second after the keeper couldn’t hold a cross after a short-corner routine on the left and Trewhitt tucked away the loose ball.
Fiji’s centre back Angeline Rekha was named player of the match for an incredible defensive performance, using her strength and pace to save the day on numerous occasions.
A crucial opening victory for the defending champions, whilst the hosts Fiji will take heart from their performance, especially in the first half.
New Zealand: 3 (Emma PIJNENBURG 15’, Rebekah TREWHITT 65’ 74’ )