New Zealand will approach the semi-finals of the OFC U-17 Championship in a confident manner after maintaining their perfect Group B record with a 5-0 disposal of Fiji this evening at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti.
The comprehensive victory followed hot on the heels of an 11-0 triumph against Samoa and a far tenser 2-1 success over Solomon Islands, meaning Danny Hay’s side has now impressively scored 18 goals and conceded just one on their way to topping the pool.
Their place in the final four was already secured going into this evening’s encounter but there was a chance the Kiwis would not top the group while Fiji were in desperate need of at least a point to keep their hopes of making the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India alive.
In the hot and humid Tahitian conditions, Hay continued to make full use of the options at his disposal as Elijah Just, Oliver Duncan, Willem Ebbinge, Matthew Jones and Ben Deeley all came into the starting line-up at the expense of Jordan Spain, Leon Van Den Hoven, Matthew Conroy, Kingsley Sinclair and Max Mata. The latter had captained the side in both of those earlier victories and the armband now went to Brisbane Roar midfielder Duncan, the only overseas-based player in the squad.
The new skipper did not have to wait long for his side to go ahead, New Zealand striking early for the third game running in the 12th minute when Jones met a corner at the near post and headed it past goalkeeper Mohammed Alam. Fiji held the Kiwis off well and at times looked like they might pull themselves back into the match but couldn’t find the finishing touch they were after.
Their task was made harder by Just when he profited from messy play in the Fijian box to poke the ball home and double the advantage in the 41st minute. New Zealand were kept at bay for the majority of the second period but Fiji’s effort fell apart just after the mid-half water break.
Mata had risen off the bench at half-time and made an impact soon after the re-start in the 76th minute by heading in a Jake Williams cross. Fiji made it through to 90 minutes without conceding again but New Zealand then scored twice in additional time.
Jones headed home his second of the match from a corner before substitute goalkeeper Asaeli Batikasa suffered the double blow of conceding a penalty and being sent off, allowing Spragg to step up and slot his fifth goal of the campaign from the spot.
Coach Hay was pleased to get through the group with an unblemished record and a full complement of points.
“I think we needed to bounce back after the way we played against Solomon Islands because there were a few aspects we weren’t that pleased with,” he said.
“It was a good, professional performance – I think that is the way to describe it,” he added.
“We’re certainly not getting carried away with ourselves, we have a really difficult game against Papua New Guinea coming up so we’re just pleased to get through unscathed and with a few goals to give the boys a bit of confidence.”
New Zealand will now face Papua New Guinea in the semi-finals of the OFC U-17 Championship on Wednesday 22 February at 6pm (NZT) at Stade Mahina. With two FIFA U-17 World Cup places on offer to the Oceania region for the first time, the winners of each semi-final will both earn a ticket to India.
New Zealand 5 (Matthew Jones 12’, 90’ + 1’, Elijah Just 41’, Max Mata 76’, Charles Spragg pen 90’ + 4’)
New Zealand: 12. Zac Jones (GK), 3. Josh Rogerson, 4. Liberato Cacace, 5. Jake Williams, 7. Elijah Just (18. Charles Spragg 81’), 8. Oliver Duncan (c), 10. Willem Ebbinge (yellow card 71’), 13. Matthew Jones, 15. Ben Deeley, 16. Oliver Whyte (14. Kingsley Sinclair 70’), 17. Matthew Palmer (9. Max Mata 46’)
Substitutes not used: 1. Dylan Bennett (GK), 2. Jordan Spain, 6. Leon Van Den Hoven, 11. Matthew Conroy
Coach: Danny Hay
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