Tahiti brought their A-game to the table for their opening OFC U-17 Championship match beating Vanuatu 1-0 in a thrilling 90 minute display for the home fans who flocked to Stade Mahina for tonight’s match.
A late penalty for New Caledonia meant they too put points on the board as they earned a 3-2 win over Papua New Guinea in the tournament’s opening match.
With the backing of the almost 1500 people who packed into Stade Mahina for the match, the Tama Ura didn’t disappoint.
But neither did their opponent who kept the tempo high throughout which made for a fast-paced and exciting encounter.
An early shot from Vanuatu tested Tahiti captain and goalkeeper Moana Pito early on, forcing him to make a superman dive to tip the ball around the upright.
However it was a brilliant move from Tahiti that saw them take the lead just 11 minutes in when Yann Vivi got his head to a long delivery, looping it over keeper Joshua Willie.
Despite a few testing moments for either side, Tahiti couldn’t extend their lead thanks to some tidy defending from Vanuatu, while for the visitors it was near impossible to beat the fleet footed Pito.
An elated Patrice Flaccadori said he couldn’t really ask for a better start to the championship from his players.
“I’m very pleased because the first match of a competition is never easy,” he said.
“Essentially you have to win the first match – that’s what we did tonight and that’s what is important.”
Not the result Vanuatu were after but coach Rocky Neveserveth said he couldn’t be too disappointed given the effort is side put into the match.
“I can’t be disappointed with this result. My players did everything they could to defend and to play, against a strong side,” he said.
“You could see there was perhaps a small lack in preparation, but we gave our all and will continue to do so throughout our stay here in Tahiti.
In the opening match of the tournament New Caledonia opened the scoring early when Paul Gope-Fenepej took just five minutes to latch onto the ball and tap it past keeper Graham Berigami.
While the Francophone’s may have had the lead it was by no means a comfortable one as Papua New Guinea kept goalkeeper Une Kecine and his defenders busy.
A back-and-forth played out through the middle of the first half before an extremely well timed pass from Titouan Richard came to Gope-Fenepej to flick in behind Berigami.
The water break in the 30th minute seemed to cause a break in concentration for New Caledonia as a long lob from defender Kimson Kapai – which could easily have been mistaken for the beginnings of an assist – caught Kecine unawares.
Returning from the break with a renewed sense of determination thanks to that first half goal, Papua New Guinea were soon 100 per cent back in the running when substitute Barthy Kerobin’s stunning equaliser in the 64th minute made it anyone’s game.
It looked like the two sides might have to make do with a share of the points as the match passed into additional time on the second but the dream comeback for Papua New Guinea was dashed with just a minute remaining in the match.
New Caledonia captain Abiezer Jeno made a stunning run into the penalty area before being taken down swiftly. It fell to Bernard Iwa to step up from the spot and he fired home to hand his side the win.
A very relived Michel Clarque was impressed with the way his side held themselves together to the three points.
“I think the team deserved the win. It was difficult for sure,” he said.
“It wasn’t always exactly the most beautiful football, and it was a win we had to chase maybe more with our hearts and desire.”
The resilience of his side to come from two goals down was what impressed Papua New Guinea coach Harrison Kamake.
“It was just one of those games,” he lamented.
“We had it, we thought at least we might draw the game but it just slipped away. It comes back to discipline.
“We didn’t play our cards right and that’s how results like this come about.”
The OFC U-17 Championship continues tomorrow with Group B at Stade Pater bringing New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Samoa into the competition.
Group A returns to action at Stade Mahina on 14 February when Papua New Guinea take on Vanuatu at 4pm before the Francophone derby kicks off between Tahiti and New Caledonia at 7pm.