The semifinals of the U-17 OFC Championship were played this Wednesday in Suva; the four teams expected to clinch a spot in the next U-17 FIFA World Cup to be played this year in Peru.
The first game of the day were between New Caledonia and Tahiti; two of the best teams in the tournament, the francophones should decide with of them would proceed for the final match and respectively book their flights to the next World Cup.
New Caledonia was the first to score; the talented Nolhann Alebate crossed the ball from a set piece and the central defender Gregory Diko tried to finished, Diko could not touch the ball but his attempt was enough to confuse Tahiti’s goalkeeper Argan Clodic-Boucher – the ball went in directly and the goal was awarded to Alebate.
New Caledonia continued to press up top, but a long pass from Tahitian skipper Hitimoana Teuira found Titouan Guillemant free – Wadria Hanye tried to clear the ball his header gifted the ball to the Tahitian striker. Guillemant made no mistake in front the goalkeeper and leveled the match.
The 1-1 draw was the final score in the first half; in the second part of the game the Tahitians started playing better, pressing New Caledonia’s defence. But it was Nolhann Alebate that once again shined – a fantastic solo effort play from the No. 10 assisted Jean-Yves Saïko in the box, the striker was fouled by Eden Cadosteau, awarding a penalty to the Cagous. This was the moment the French-based goalkeeper Argan Clodic-Boucher stepped up; the Joseph Hnaissilin’s penalty was defended by keeper – but the referee appointed the penalty needed to be retaken was Tahitian defence invaded the penalty box before the penalty was taken. This time Nolhann Alebate stepped up to take it, but once again Clodic-Boucher defended it and also saves the rebound shot by Jythrim Upa.
The winter was not decided within 90 minutes: the game went to the penalty shootout. It was the time for Claude Tiaouniane, New Caledonia’s goalkeeper to shine: he saved two penalties and counted on a miss from Hitimoana Teuira to win the shootout and qualify New Caledonia for their second-ever appearance at the U-17 FIFA World Cup.
The second game had a clear favourite: New Zealand. The team coached by Martin Bullock was expected to control Fiji even playing in their home ground.
The English-based player Adam Watson scored the first for New Zealand still under the 10th minute mark – making it seem easy for the New Zealanders. But Fiji stepped up just after conceding; Rewa’s Delon Shankar set-piece play found Aron Naicker free in the right, his cross found Sailimone Ravonokula free in the box – his shot hit the crossbar and went it over the line to level the match.
New Zealand created some good opportunities still in the first half, but only in the final part of the game that New Zealand made the difference: it was again Adam Watson to score the second for his Tema, taking a rebound from Fiji’s keeper after a shot from Jackson Cole. New Zealand continued to press up top, but could only score another at the 72nd after a brilliant assist from Adam Watson to the top-scorer of the tournament Luke Supyk – he scored his sixth in the competition. Watson completed his hattrick eight minutes later after a brilliant solo effort giving no chance to Fijian defenders – giving final numbers to he match: New Zealand 4 – 1 Fiji.
New Zealand and New Caledonia will now on Saturday (28th Jan) the final match of the tournament to decide the champions of the U-17 OFC Championship. This will be the second match of both sides in the competition, as they played in the group stage with a narrow 3-2 win in favour of New Zealand.
Tahiti and Fiji also will have one more match in the tournament, as this year OFC decided to introduce a third-match playoff in the tournament. The match will also be played in Suva this Saturday.