The OFC U-17 Championship is underway, with New Zealand defeating New Caledonia 3-2 in an entertaining game at the Fiji Football Academy in Ba. Luke Supyk was the hero for the young Kiwis, scoring all three of their goals.
New Zealand came into the game as tournament favourites but it was the New Caledonians signalled their intent early, with a well struck shot from Bayron Gouhope hitting the side netting after only about 10 seconds of play. After five minutes the rain began to fall, but it didn’t stop Ryan Lee from putting in a lovely cross for Adam Watson to head just over the bar for New Zealand’s first chance.
The breakthrough came off a free kick, with NZ captain and Manchester City age grade player Marley Leuluai finding an unmarked Watson, his shot from the edge of the box wasn’t held by goalkeeper Claude Tiaouniane and Supyk had an easy finish to open the scoring.
However, the slippery conditions caused issues at the other end, too. Shortly after, New Caledonia defender Ronald Nyanyane found himself in possession near the NZ corner flag, then cut inside to let off a shot on the edge of the box. NZ keeper Matty Foord looked to have it covered, but the ball slipped out of his hands and into the goal to make it 1-1.
Nolhann Alabete kept the pressure on for New Caledonia, his shot after 23 minutes just passing wide of the post. Play started opening up and Watson blasted a good chance over the bar at the other end. Unfortunately Watson picked up an injury and was replaced just before halftime by Niko Bruce.
New Caledonia actually ended the half with more shots on goal, but it was New Zealand that came out with the attacking intent after the break. Konstantino Gorgiovski attempted a long range shot that just missed, shortly after an opportunity presented itself for Anaru Cassidy in front of goal that Tiaouniane did well to diffuse.
However, NZ perhaps got too confident in the 65th minute, playing the ball back to Foord who was well upfield. Alabete raced up and caught Anton Isaako in possession, the resulting content spilled into the penalty area and Isaako clipped Alabete with referee Kavitesh Behari showing no hesitation in awarding a penalty.
Captain Joseph Hnaissalin showed cool composure to slot his spot kick past Foord for New Caledonia to take the lead.
But the drama had only just began. Straight off the kickoff NZ played the ball into the New Caledonia area and it was Hnaissalin who committed a foul, with Behari pointing to the spot for the second time in a matter of minutes. Supyk stepped up and levelled the score with a powerful kick.
Supyk then completed his hat trick not long after. Cassidy found Matthew D’Hotham De Villiers out on the left hand touch line, who floated a perfect cross over for Supyk to head home past Tiaouniane to put NZ back in the lead.
This would prove to be the decisive strike, as NZ dominated the remaining minutes to run out winners, although Gregory Diko had a late chance for New Caledonia that drew a great save by Foord. There were tired legs on both sides when Behari blew for full time, with both teams making good use of their benches.
While NZ took the spoils, the real winner was football in the Oceania region. This is the first OFC U-17 Championship to be played since 2018 and will provide an excellent platform for talent from around the Pacific to shine. Both teams will play American Samoa in their second and final Group B game, New Zealand in action on Saturday while New Caledonia return on Tuesday.
NEW ZEALAND 3 (Luke SUPYK 9’, 72′ pen, 75’)
NEW CALEDONIA 2 (Ronald NGANYANE 16’, Joseph HNAISSILIN 69′ pen)