The group stage of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2022 ended with a thrilling 2-2 draw between New Caledonia and Solomon Islands, a result that sees both teams qualify for the quarter-finals.

However, Vanuatu, who had a last-minute penalty saved against Tahiti in their Group B clash earlier today, are eliminated after an exciting day of action at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva, Fiji.

New Caledonia were presented with an early chance to open the scoring. Excellent work in midfield from player-of-the-match Thérèse Pawawi unleashed eventual hero Jennifer Neporo on goal but she failed to make contact with the ball to the relief of Solomon Islands goalie Margaret Kofela – who was injured in her attempt to press the attacker.

Solomon Islands reacted immediately. Mary Maefiti’s tenacity in midfield paid off as she played in Almah Gogoni, who raced away from Marielle Haocas to slide home a well-taken finish and give her side the lead.

New Caledonia’s struggle to handle the pace of the Solomon Islands attack became a theme throughout the first-half.

Jemina David was next through on goal but was well blocked by the onrushing Lorenza Hnamano before the New Caledonia goalkeeper was called upon again to prevent Gogoni’s impressive swivelling half-volley effort.

Ileen Pegi was next to be denied by Hnamano, after the Solomons captain benefitted from some casual New Caledonian defending.

Solomon Islands then had a clear chance to put the game to bed in the second-half. Hnamano was again the hero for New Caledonia, stopping David’s close-range effort before a wicked bounce took the ball away from Gogoni with an open goal beckoning.

New Caledonia coach Michel Berbeche made tactical and personnel changes and they were having the desired impact.

It was Neporo, who early on had mistimed an effort on goal, who scored two crucial goals for New Caledonia.

After coming close in quick succession from set-pieces she finally got her goal, smashing home from the edge of the box after Solomon Islands failed to clear. Just five minutes later, she scored again, this time latching on to Sarah Uregei’s lofted pass to thrash home and give New Caledonia the lead and two vital goals in the bid for qualification.

At 2-1, both teams were heading through but the Solomon Islands set up a tense finish for New Caledonia, who had to avoid defeat, when Maefiti’s long-range free-kick went through the hands of the previously reliable Hnamano.

However, the 2-2 draw proved enough for both teams to advance. Solomon Islands finish second in Group C while New Caledonia progress as one of the highest-ranked third-place sides ahead of Vanuatu after scoring more goals in the group stage.

New Caledonia will face Group A winners Samoa on July 23 and Solomon Islands will take on Group B runners-up Tahiti on July 24 in the quarter-finals, joining Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji and Cook Islands in the final eight. Despite being level on points, goal difference, goals scored and goals conceded, Vanuatu are eliminated by virtue of a worse fair play record than Group A’s Tonga.

Post-match comments:

New Caledonia head coach Michel Berbeche:

“I would have loved for it to have been 3-1 or 3-2 but at the end of the game I am just so happy that we are qualified.”

Solomon Islands head coach Batram Suri:

“I am so happy with the girls. They worked so hard although the tempo went down in the second-half but still we went 2-1 down close to full-time but still we knew the performance and I am so proud of the girls.”

New Caledonia 2 (Jennifer NEPORO 73’, 78’)

Solomon Islands 2 (Almah GOGONI 15’, Mary MAEFITI 85’)

Half-time: 0-1