Vanuatu have edged past Fiji in a tense encounter to leapfrog them into top spot in Group A and secure their place in the semi-finals of the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship following a dramatic Match Day 5 at Rarotonga’s CIFA Academy.
Elsewhere the tournament hosts, who needed to beat Solomon Islands by four goal or more in the final match of the day in order to climb above Vanuatu, couldn’t rise to the challenge, bowing out of the competition with a 1-nil defeat.
Meanwhile in the day’s opening Group C match, Papua New Guinea defeated Tonga 2-0 to end their campaign on a high note.
Fiji 0-1 Vanuatu
Group A leaders Fiji only needed a draw against Vanuatu to guarantee their passage to the final four and Sunil Kumar’s team started brightly with Vitalina Naikore and skipper Koleta Likuculacula making darting runs to cause problems on both wings during the early exchanges.
However after absorbing the pressure, Vanuatu looked to have settled their nerves to begin dictating the tempo of the game.
Cynthia Ngwelle tried her luck from distance with a shot just missing the crossbar before Bindy Erikan unleashed a thundering drive to force a brilliant save from Fiji goalkeeper Maria Parr.
Erikan had another attempt just off target before Celestine Kalopong gave Vanuatu a deserved lead with a superb long-range strike in the 35th minute.
With Vanuatu taking the lead, the Fijians had to throw caution to the wind and they came close to levelling the scores when Asenaca Diranuve set up her captain Koleta Likuculacula, who codn’t controlled her shot inside the box just minutes before the half-time break.
In the second half Fiji poured forward searching for an equaliser with Naikore coming close twice, before Lousia Simmons missing the target from the edge of the box following a nice set up by Likuculacula.
Vanuatu remained dangerous on the counter as Nettie Kalsau forced a good save from close range, while at the other end Naikore hit the side net with a powerful drive in a pulsating contest.
With only ten minutes on the clock, Fiji gave a final push to level the match with Likuculacula narrowly missing another opportunity in front of goal, before Daina Sine produced a stunning, last gasp tackle to deny the Fiji skipper who was one-on-one with the Vanuatu keeper inside the box.
Deep into injury time the Fijians have almost rescued their campaign with Fulori Sukulu’s brilliant freekick that crashed against the crossbar, but it wasn’t to be as Vanuatu held on to leapfrog them into top spot.
Coach Jean Robert Yelou heaped praise on his players efforts.
“I think we did well, we gave our best, very proud because playing the same eleven for three games it’s not easy so for me I’m very proud of the girls,” he said.
“I knew the Fijian team will come all over us in the second half, I knew that they will press us, that’s why I was focused on not giving them space behind and yes the girls followed the game plan,” the Vanuatu coach explained.
Meanwhile, Fiji’s campaign had come to an end and coach Sunil Kumar couldn’t hide his disappointment.
“We gave away and easy goal in the first half and we had so many chances we created, we could not score so maybe luck was not on our side,” he lamented.
“Overall, I think the girls did well, they showed structured football so with that I’m happy,” added the Fiji coach.
Cook Islands 0-1 Solomon Islands
Vanuatu’s win over Fiji has opened the door to the Cook Islanders who needed to beat the already eliminated Solomon Islands by at least four goals in order to clinch top spot in the standings on goal difference.
On the back of some vocal local support the hosts looked dangerous inside the opening 15 minutes with opportunities falling for captain Tehinnah Tatuava, Tarita Mamanu and Piri Murare.
Solomon Islands best chance came at the end of a counter-attacking move, halted by Piri Murare’s great tackle inside the box to deny a clear goalscoring chance to Jojo Ledi, who found herself one-on-one with the keeper.
Cook Islands have kept pressing high with Ngametua Taringa on target thanks to a well-hit strike from distance before Solomons defender Madeline Arukau was forced to clear from the line from a curling corner on target sent in by Piri Murare.
Following a scoreless first half, the hosts became increasingly desperate to open their account with a number of long-distance attempts to test Vanuatu keeper Serah Alpefolocia
However, by pushing forward the Cook Islanders have left themselves exposed and vulnerable at the back and Solomon Islands took full advantage against the run of play, with Jojo Ledi tapping in from close range in the 58th minute.
The goal had virtually ended the hosts’ qualifications hopes, and their frustration continued when Kura Mose smashed her shot against the post before Ngamata Moekaa failed to put the rebound over the line from close range as a result of some desperate Solomon Islands defending.
That was Cook Islands’ best chance to get something out of the game before the referee’s final whistle sparked joyous celebrations amongst the exhausted and proud Solomon Island players.
Disappointed coach Tuka Tisam admitted his side wasn’t clinical enough in front of goal.
“Finishing is an issue, again with a defensive team like Solomon Islands, it’s really hard to get through them so they did really well they did a good job on their defensive side of things so it was really hard to crack through the Solomon Islands,” Tisam explained
“We set up to go for that four goals unfortunately we didn’t come out with the result we wanted. We had a lot of chances in the game and we couldn’t get the ball in the net, it was just one of those games.
“But I thought the girls battled and battled to try and get a goal at least to get us started but you know, it is what it is,” the Cook Islands coach added.
Meanwhile, his Solomon Islands counterpart Patrick Miniti remained humble after his side’s win.
“We have a lot of respect for the Cook Islands, they have a very good team, they developed so much and it showed in the two games, they fought very hard and they’ve got very good teams and we had to dig extra hard and maybe add something a little bit different to play them and it paid off,” he said.
“Our Group is the toughest and it was very tight in our group so congratulations to Vanuatu.
Tonga 0-2 Papua New Guinea
Despite New Caledonia’s progression to the semis had turned Papua New Guinea’s meeting with group C rivals Tonga into a dead rubber, both sides were keen to finish the tournament on a high note.
However, the game in the first half has failed to live up to expectations with little creativity shown on the attacking front.
The only noteworthy moment of the first period was provided by Tonga captain Mele Kafa, who rose to head just wide above the crossbar at the half-hour mark.
Papua New Guinea showed far more attacking intent after the break with Abigail Wagol and Asaiso Gossie causing problems for the Tongan defenders before
Sylvia Jangiko’s faint touch helped Gossie’s goalbound shot over the line to give the lead to the Melanesians.
With just over five minutes to go Nicole Bekio put the result beyond any doubt by tapping into the empty net from 5 metres out.
Following her side’s heavy defeat in their opening match, coach Rachel Wadunah was delighted with her team’s performance.
“After going down to New Caledonia 8-nil I told the girls we can do it, learn from your mistakes in the first game and let’s improve. So today was a game where I saw a lot of improvements and I’m very pleased with it,” she said.
“When I saw that the Tongans were down I told them push up and let’s keep possession let move up and make numbers up in front so that we can have the opportunity to finish and that’s what they did, exactly what I told them to,” the Papua New Guinea coach explained.
Despite bowing out early, Tonga coach Lafaele Moala believes the tournament provided him with plenty of valuable lessons for the future.
“What I’ve learned is to be confident and trust my players and also our players to trust themselves,” he said.
“It’s a very young team and I’m looking forward for some of these girls to participate in the next U-16 tournament and hopefully they will learn from their mistakes at this tournament, and carry on improving,” added Moala.