U-19 women hit half-way mark

AN important day of action awaits the six participating teams tomorrow as the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship hits the half-way mark at Ngahue Reserve in Auckland, New Zealand.

Papua New Guinea turned their fortunes around with an inspired performance against New Caledonia and will be hoping that luck continues into their match with Tonga. New Caledonia will need to pick themselves up from that loss to Papua New Guinea when they meet New Zealand in the second encounter, but a much inspired performance will be required against the goal-hungry Kiwis.

Finally Samoa take on Fiji at 3pm in what is expected to be a physical encounter between the two sides as they both gun for victory.

Despite a tidy first half performance against New Zealand in their opening match, Papua New Guinea were undone by their experienced opponents, however showed incredibly resilience when they bounced back to secure a 7-0 victory in their second match.

Coach Rachel Wadunah said the result was a response to minor adjustments they made between the two matches.

“In our first game against New Zealand, we sat deep and were more defensive but with this game against New Caledonia, we pressed very high and had chances to convert those attacking moments into goals.”

Wadunah expects to take a similar approach against Tonga, aware that scoring goals will be key to her side moving higher up the table.

For Tonga, after a confidence-boosting draw against Samoa, and some positive football, Christian Koneti is certain the team provide a good challenge for Papua New Guinea.

However he’s aware that the Melanesians have taken two different approaches to their games so far, and knows either approach will be difficult for his side to contain.

“Of course the result against New Caledonia has me worried. The way they played was totally different to their first game so we had better step up a notch,” he said.

Coming off the back of a heavy defeat, New Caledonia will have spent the past two days working on what went wrong, and how they can fix it ahead of a clash against the defending champions.

Coach Kamali Fitialeata found his side to be unrecognisable to what he has seen day-in, day-out in training over the past few weeks.

“We weren’t good enough at all on Friday,” he said. “I found that we just didn’t play.”

Whether he can help the side to make the necessary adjustments remains to be seen, and his biggest challenge is whether it will be enough to keep the Kiwis in check.

New Zealand continue to play with determination and drive, and despite some decent victories so far coach Gareth Turnbull believes there is still more to work on.

“We’ll focus on us, it will probably be more of the same but probably an area we do need to tweak is our decision-making in the final third,” he said.

So depending if they press us or hold back, we need to be smarter with the type of execution we’re taking.”

Both Fiji and Samoa were treated to mixed results on Friday.

Samoa played well in very trying conditions against Tonga to secure their first points of the tournament with a 1-1 draw.

The Samoan side has been impressive in each of their matches so far, with excellent structure and attacking prowess showing off some real talent.

However they’ve been unable to turn some dominant displays into winning results, something coach Martin Tamasese hopes will change against Fiji.

“I’ve seen Fiji, the way they play, and we’re going to work with the girls and help them adjust ready for Monday.”

For Fiji coach Saroj Kumar, playing New Zealand in the unfamiliar conditions was tough going and despite the side’s efforts they found their opponent to be too good.

Going into the encounter against Samoa he believes is an opportunity for redemption for the players, who he knows are keen to get back to winning.

“We are confident enough that we will go ahead with what we planned to come here for. If we cannot be the best, we can be the second best.”

Weighing in the backs of the Fijian minds however, will be the loss of goalkeeper Francine Lockington who passed away in Fiji on Saturday.

The OFC U-17 Women’s Championship 2017 Golden Glove winner had been in camp with the team leading up to the competition before she was forced to withdraw.