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Seventh heaven for New Zealand U-19

After a very tight final, New Zealand retained their OFC U-19 title by beating Tahiti 1-0 this Sunday. Both teams qualified for the next FIFA U-20 World Cup, next year in Poland.

New Zealand celebrates the OFC U-19 title

New Zealand retained their OFC U-19 title by beating Tahiti 1-0 in the final of the championship this Sunday. The Junior All Whites have won five of the last six championships at this level. In comparison, Tahiti have been victorious only twice, in 1974 and 2008. Both teams qualified for the next FIFA U-20 World Cup, next year in Poland.

So the final was to be tight, and it proved true. The only goal came at 50’, on a brilliant New Zealand counter-attack on the right side, which Trevor Zwetsloot concluded with little difficulty.

The Tahitians also had their chances but were either not sufficiently clinical in finishing, or were denied by Cameron Brown, the Kiwi goalkeeper. Until the last minutes, the boys of Bruno Tehaamoana tried hard, and were so close to come back on this beautiful free-kick from Roonui Tehau 10 minutes before final whistle, but once again, Brown read the shot perfectly and managed a superb save.

Unfortunately, the contest became very tense and both teams were shown a red card at the final whistle, for New Zealander golden boot Max Mata (5 goals) and Tahitian Hauragi Huri. A pity, certainly but this did not prevent the Kiwis celebrating their seventh trophy in the category (1980, 1992, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018).

Des Buckingham, the New Zealand coach, was obviously delighted: "it was a very tough game and you can see the work Tahiti has put in over the past year they were very hard to break down. To come here and win the championship and for New Zealand and Tahiti to go on and represent the region next year is great", he said.

Tahiti beat Solomon Islands in the 2018 OFC U-19 championship semi-finals

For Tahiti coach Bruno Tehaamoana, it was a mix between disappointment and pride: "it’s a disappointment, we prepared well for this match and I’d like to congratulate my team, as they did incredibly well in this game. We weren’t effective enough tonight, that’s sport. The kids prepared well, even if we lost we have to keep our heads high because we have had a fantastic tournament."

In the third place match, New Caledonia thrashed Solomon Islands 4-1, with a little bit of help of the Solomons' keeper on the first two goals, unfortunately for him: slippery hands on the first goal, a bad misjudgement of a long ball on the second one. That was not the day of Joel Nanago... However, he could not do anything on the last goal of the Caledonians, a great and smooth finish of Pierre Bako.

The coach of New Caledonia, Felix Tagawa, was very satisfied with the 3rd place earned by his boys. "We missed out on the semi-final by so little so we really wanted to finish on a good note. After the semi-final we had to dig deep, recover well and say why we are here today – we’re here for the competition, we’re here for the football. We didn’t come here to take this match as a friendly, it’s an international match and it’s for third place too", he said.

The tournament offered a lot of other brilliant moments, including some wonderful goals. For example, in the semi-final between Tahiti and the Solomon Islands, Rainui Nordman scored this absolute screamer at the end of a thunderbolt counter attack. A goal which, on top of it, was practically a synonym to a qualification for the final for his team...

New Caledonia, one of the very nice surprises of the tournament, impressed in particular on the offensive side, with 16 goals scored, the 2nd best total of all teams behind New Zealand. The Polynesian strikers showed a lot of pace and skills, as Paul Gope-Fenepej demonstrated with this spectacular volley against Vanuatu in the first round.

But his teammate on the front line - on the right side - Pierre Bako was also very inspired all tournament long, using his speed on the wing to offer goals, but also showing a very good eye for football. Look at this lob against Vanuatu, beautiful...

All in all, a brilliant tournament with a lot of actions, goals, saves, and suspense. If you have missed it, you can see all highlights and games on-demand on mycujoo.

Pictures courtesy of OFC/Phototek