Back-to-back draws in second round action at Stade Mahina has left the race for two semi-final spots in Group A wide open.
Opening the night of excitement at 4pm (local time) will be current leaders New Caledonia against bottom-of-the-table Vanuatu, but with the race so close, points are crucial for either side if they want a place in the knockout stage of the competition.
Vanuatu coach Rocky Neveserveth is confident in his side’s ability to score against New Caledonia after finishing three attempts in their previous match.
“The best part of the game for me was when our young guys scored goals. We spoke a lot about this match and we said to press and press and try and score goals. We wanted to win,” he said.
Neveserveth hopes to see that same level of intensity against New Caledonia as every point will count towards their placing on the ladder.
“I’ve told them to focus, to be in the match and to remain motivated for the whole game,” he said.
“We will do everything we can to win and get the three points.”
Despite their current placing at the top of the Group A ladder thanks to goal difference, New Caledonia coach Michel Clarque knows the battle is far from over for his side and a win against Vanuatu is integral.
“I think for the two teams it will be an important match,” he said.
“We know what we’re playing for, there’s no math that comes into it. We have to play it out until the end.”
Papua New Guinea and Tahiti’s clash will follow at 7pm (local time) with similar stakes for the two mid-table teams.
Despite a loss and a draw giving his side only one point, Papua New Guinea coach Harrison Kamake is pleased with the style of play displayed by his team so far and plans to follow the same plan for their match against the hosts.
“I’m impressed with the attacking and switching of the team,” he said.
“We won’t be deviating from our plan, and hopefully we come out with a win in the next game which will put us in a good position depending on the other results.”
After an additional time equaliser saw Tahiti lose two crucial points against New Caleodonia, coach Patrice Flaccadori knows his side will need to keep their heads up until the final whistle when they play Papua New Guinea.
“We have to win. We have a player suspended for a stupid yellow card, but a deserved one, so we will need to re-motivate the team because they have really taken the draw hard,” he said.
“Our objective now is to reach the semi-final.”
Vanuatu vs. New Caledonia
Friday 17 February
Vital Statistics: Vanuatu last faced New Caledonia when both sides lost their semi-final matches and met for the third place play-off in the 2015 OFC U-17 Championship. Vanuatu completely dominated the match, winning 6-0 and earning the podium finish.
The Players: Reserve goalkeeper Dgen Leo made a name for himself in Vanuatu’s previous match against Papua New Guinea when he came on to replace an injured Joshua Willie. Leo made back-to-back saves throughout the game and kept Vanuatu’s semi-final hopes alive when he was the hero in a 2v1 against Papua New Guinea’s Aben Pukue and Jonathan Allen.
Coach Quote: “We will do everything we can to win and get the three points.”
Vanuatu: 1. Joshua WILLIE (GK), 2. Jayson TARI, 3. Zidane MAGUEKON, 4. Glendon LEKI, 5. Jean-Claude BATICK, 6. Nelsin RAWOR, 7. Alberick WEQUAS, 8. Tom SAKSAK, 9. Rhydley Napau, 10. Abert VANVA, 11. Fred CHRISTION, 12. Andre DAMELIP, 13. Julio TEVANU, 14. Semy Chris IATI, 15. Richard THOMAS, 16. Dilland NGWELE, 17. Presley ALICK, 18. Tyson GERE, 19. Jack WILLIE, 20. Dgen LEO (GK).
Coach: Rocky NEVESERVETH (VAN)
Vital Statistics: New Caledonia’s highest placing in an OFC U-17 Championship was in 2003 and 2013 when they came second. Both editions of the competition were round-robin league formats. New Caledonia have only played in a semi-final three times, in 1999, 2005 and 2015, and have never progressed on to the final.
The Players: Robert Caihe was the hero in New Caledonia’s last match, scoring the equaliser in additional time to keep his nation’s World Cup dreams alive. Caihe finished an attempt off a free kick.
Coach Quote: “We know what we’re playing for, there’s no math that comes into it. We have to play it out until the end.”
New Caledonia: 1. Germain ITA (GK), 2. Josuah HLEMU, 3. Titouan RICHARD, 4. Kiam WANESSE, 5. Cameron WADENGES, 6. Abiezer JENO, 7. Raymond LUEWADRIA, 8. Cyril NYIPIE, 9. Vita LONGUE, 10. Lionel THAHNAENA, 11. Paul GOPE-FENEPEJ, 12. Bernard IWA, 13. RAOUL WENISSO, 14. Japhet QAEZE, 15. Ezeckiel TAOUAVAMA, 16. Pierre BAKO, 17. Jean-Pierre ENOKA, 18. Robert CAIHE, 19. Henri KAPOERI, 20. Unë KECINE (GK).
Coach: Michel CLARQUE (NCL)
Papua New Guinea vs. Tahiti
Friday 17 February
Papua New Guinea
Vital Statistics: Friday night’s match will be the first time in the history of the OFC U-17 Championship that Papua New Guinea will play Tahiti.
The Players: Barthy Kerobin proved dangerous on attack for Papua New Guinea in their last match, earning his side the half time lead when he scored his penalty in the fourth minute of additional time, then regaining the lead in the second half when he finished an attempt off a deflection.
Coach Quote: “We won’t be deviating from our plan, and hopefully we come out with a win in the next game which puts us in a good position depending on the other results.”
Papua New Guinea: 1. Charley NINGIKAU (GK), 2. Milton BIWA, 3. Kimson KAPAI, 4. Sylvester LUKE, 5. Freeman GIWI, 6. Samuel DETNOM, 7. Emmanuel SIMONGI, 8. Aben PUKUE, 9. Barthy KEROBIN, 10. Oberth SIMON, 11. Yagi YASASA, 12. Ricky WADUNAH, 13. Thomas KONGRAGLE, 14. Emmanuel YOPIYOPI, 15. Dunstan JEFFEREY, 16. Jonathan ALLEN, 17. Dopson NOI, 18. Wolfram KOB, 19. Abraham ALLEN, 20. Graham BERIGAMI (GK).
Coach: Harrison KAMAKE (PNG)
Vital Statistics: Tahiti has not lost to any nation other than New Zealand since 2005, when they lost 2-1 against Vanuatu in the group stage.
The Players: Papua New Guinea will have to work hard to break down the Tahiti backline, with combinations from Ariimana Taaroamea and Tautu Heitarauri keeping strikers away from goal and shutting down counter attacks in previous matches. Both central defenders pack in a strong, clean tackle and know when to make the clearance to safety.
Coach Quote: “A win against Papua New Guinea would be three points that we need.”
Tahiti: 1. Tevaearai TAMATAI (GK), 2. Ariimana TAAROAMEA, 3. Taumihau TEHAAMOANA, 4. Tohivea HARING, 5. Giovanni BOOENE, 6. Kavai’ei MORGANT, 7. Ryann BOUKROUMA, 8. Eddy KASPARD, 9. Tutehau TUFARIUA, 10. Yann VIVI, 11. Hitiora HANERE, 12. Bryand TETUANUI, 13. Herearii KOHUMOETINI, 14. Tautu HEITARAURI, 16. Moana PITO, 17. Terai BREMOND, 18. Moanahau LAI, 19. Diego ARANEDA, 20. Nohoarii GARBUTT.
Suspensions: 15. Kalahani BEAUMERT.
Coach: Patrice FLACCADORI (FRA)
Story courtesy of OFC. For more on OFC U17 Championships visit www.oceaniafootball.com