New Zealand have saved their best for last to claim the OFC U-17 Championship title in style.
Danny Hay’s team, who defeated Samoa (11-0), Solomon Islands (2-1) and Fiji (5-0) before edging past Papua New Guinea 2-1 in their semi-final, put away New Caledonia 7-0 in hot conditions at the Stade Pater in Pirae, Tahiti to become six-time consecutive champions.
With both teams already qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India under the new rules, the final was all about claiming the honour of being the best team in the Oceania Football Confederation.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay said it was great to see his side fulfil their potential in the championship final.
“I’m really pleased for the players first and foremost,” said Hay. “They delivered a really complete performance tonight and let the shackles off. They were so nervous going into that semi-final game because there was so much riding on it. But we wanted to finish on a high and to show people what we are really capable of and we delivered some amazing stuff tonight.”
New Zealand went ahead in the 33rd minute when Elijah Just – one of the game’s standout individuals – was able to gets his foot to a long throw from Josh Rogerson. It was a deserved lead and there was more to come soon after.
Three minutes later, Wellington Phoenix U-20 rep Liberato Cacace doubled the lead when he hit a powerful shot from wide out which bounced in off the back post.
New Zealand had a host of other chances to score a third before the break, with Just in the thick of the action, but New Caledonia hung on to be 2-0 down at half-time.
As expected New Caledonia came back into the final after the break with Ezeckiel Taouavama and Ablezer Jeno creating goal scoring opportunities but they could not convert.
New Zealand weathered the storm and put the result beyond down when another promising Wellington Phoenix youngster Max Mata headed home on the end of a free kick from Just.
It was that one-two act that combined again for the fourth. Just like the first half the Kiwis scored two goals in quick succession. Just again laid it on with the free-kick, Mata received the ball and turned to fire home past New Caledonian keeper Germain Ita.
Moments after Mata had netted his double he was replaced by Charles Spragg up front and from there the floodgates had opened. Matthew Conroy fired the ball into goal after receiving a perfect through ball from Spragg for the fifth in the 70th minute.
Spragg, who scored four goals in the opening rout of Samoa, took his second touch of the ball after coming off the bench to make it 6-0 in the 72nd minute. It was his seventh goal of a highly successful campaign.
Matthew Palmer, who scored a hat-trick in the opener, also came off the bench to score in injury time and ensure the Kiwis finished on a high note. Moments later they held aloft the trophy and were celebrating as the U-17 champions of Oceania.
OFC U-17 Championship Final
New Zealand 7 (Elijah Just 30’, Liberato Cacace 33’’, Max Mata 62’, 67’, Matthew Conroy 70’, Charles Spragg 72’, Matthew Palmer 90’ + 1’) New Caledonia 0 HT 2-0
New Zealand U-17 team: 12. Zac Jones, 2. Jordan Spain, 3. Josh Rogerson, 4. Liberato Cacace, 6. Leon Van Den Hoven (8. Oliver Duncan), 7. Elijah Just, 9. Max Mata (Charles Spragg 69’) 11. Matthew Conroy (17. Matthew Palmer 79’), 14. Kingsley Sinclair, 15. Ben Deeley, 16. Oliver Whyte Subs not used: 1. Dylan Bennett, 5. Jake Williams, 12. Zac Jones
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