Vanuatu notched their third straight victory at the OFC U-20 Championship on Saturday, a 1-0 win over New Caledonia which sees them top Group A and stay in Port Vila for the semi-finals.
However, defending OFC U-20 champions Fiji are heading home however, after they could only manage a 1-1 draw in their match against Papua New Guinea.
Vanuatu’s Ronaldo Wilkins had a penalty saved in first half injury time but New Caledonia’s goalkeeper Mickael Ulile had moved off his line early giving Wilkins the chance to convert the retake for the game’s only goal.
It now earns them a semi-final against Solomon Islands in Port Vila on Tuesday with the winner claiming a place in next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea. New Caledonia also qualify for the semi-finals, travelling to Santo to challenge New Zealand for the other of Oceania’s two World Cup tickets.
Vanuatu’s perfect nine point haul sees them top a group at an OFC age-group championship for the first time and will allow them to prepare for Tuesday’s big match in the familiar surrounds of the Vanuatu Football Federation Academy.
“We’re happy to achieve the goal of winning the group and earning a semi-final in Port Vila,” said Vanuatu’s Technical Advisor Declan Edge.
“We’ll regroup tonight get some ice-baths in for the players. It was tough out here today. But we’ve haven’t conceded a goal again so we’re not bad.”
New Caledonia made a raft of changes for today’s match but it almost paid off in a tense encounter. With Fiji missing out on all three points New Caledonia were assured of their semi-final place before kick-off and had the freedom to attack in an effort to defeat the hosts and top the group themselves.
However New Caledonia coach Kemali Fitealeata was content despite the defeat.
“We’ve achieved our primary objective of reaching the semi-finals but we now face a short turnaround and a trip to play New Zealand.
“We lost the game today but I’m happy about the performance the players displayed this afternoon. Now our attention switches quickly to our preparations for New Zealand.”
Earlier in the day Fiji drew 1-1 with Papua New Guinea, falling short of the victory they needed to keep the pressure on New Caledonia in the semi-final hunt.
A free kick from Peter Dabinyaba Junior eluded everyone in the 35th minute to give Papua New Guinea the lead but Fiji’s best player on the day, France Catarogo, pulled his side level with 20 minutes to play.
In a game with plenty of scoring chances, Fiji coach Yogendra Dutt was again left lamenting the ones his side spurned.
“It was very evident the chances that we missed and when you miss chance this what happens. We were finishing those chances in training but couldn’t do it on match day and it cost us,” Dutt said.
For Papua New Guinea who let another winning position slip from their grasp, the point was at least something to show from a frustrating campaign in Port Vila.
“We’re happy to go with a point from today,” said Fiji coach Peter Gunemba.
“We knew Fiji would be coming to beat us by a big margin to try and reach the semi-finals. We couldn’t qualify but we wanted put our country first and go out and get a result.”
In the day’s Group B matches in Santo New Zealand and Solomon Islands drew 0-0 to confirm themselves as first and second in the group respectively. That result eliminated Tahiti who beat Cook Islands 3-1 in their final match.