New Zealand have claimed their fourth title and their tickets to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018 after defeating New Caledonia 6-0 in the final of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship in Apia, Samoa tonight.
Although his side absolutely dominated throughout their entire campaign, New Zealand coach Leon Birnie was still overjoyed to take home the title and was relieved to secure a strong win after an impressive first half from the Francophones.
“I’m really pleased with the girls. We’ve got a World Cup to look forward to and that was the aim when we came here and the girls are already looking forward to it,” he said.
“It was a challenge out there today. I thought – the first half especially – New Caledonia played really well.
“Credit to Matthieu and the New Caledonian side, I thought they definitely deserved a place in the final and they put on a great first half performance and made it really challenging for us.
New Caledonia took the field looking like a different team from their previous Kiwi meeting in the group stage, playing a high intensity game straight off the whistle and creating some dangerous opportunities in the New Zealand box.
New Zealand persevered with their structured style of play and after 28 minutes their patience paid off when Arabella Maynard followed up a save from goalkeeper Lorenza Hnamano and found the goal but strong defending from New Caledonia denied any more goals for the rest of the half.
Maynard scored her second goal in the first minutes back on the field, following up an attempt from Brown after a strong New Zealand build-up then a heart-breaking defensive error from Melissa Iekawe brought New Zealand’s tally up to three only 10 minutes later.
Maynard profited from New Caledonia’s dropped heads and sent in two more goals in the space of three minutes before substitute Grace Wisnewski squeezed in New Zealand’s seventh goal to get her name on the scorecard.
Despite the tough loss ending their World Cup hopes, New Caledonia coach Matthieu Delcroix was very pleased with his team’s improved performance against New Zealand.
“I’m feeling very proud of my players. They did very well,” he said.
“We tried to manage the game in a different way to our first game with New Zealand. We tried to press higher and we did well in the first half and caused problems for New Zealand.
“This is the end of the tournament and the girls were tired but we always wanted to play. They should be very proud of themselves.”
Delcroix is now looking forward to sending the young players home to proud families after an impressive campaign.
“The objective was to be on the podium and we did it,” he said.
“I think the girls will be rewarded by their parents, friends and the federation – everybody – because they did very well.
“They represented women’s football in New Caledonia very well.”
Birnie is also focusing on reward and celebration for the next few days but with next year’s assignment now confirmed, it won’t be long until the team is pulled back into competition mode.
“We’ll take a couple of days off – it’s been a long tournament over here – then the girls will go back to their clubs based all around New Zealand,” he said.
“Moving into next year we’ll have a number of camps and some international tours so that we can get them some more experience and put them in the best possible place come World Cup time.”
Golden Ball: Maya HAHN (NZL)
Golden Boot: Kelli BROWN (NZL)
Golden Gloves: Lorenza HNAMANO (NCL)
Fairplay Award: Tonga (TGA)