New Zealand have booked the 24thand final ticket to France 2019 with an 8-0 rout of Fiji in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup final, confirming their regional dominance with their fourth consecutive Oceania title.
The Football Ferns dominated the competition from start to finish with clinical and professional performances seeing them score 43 goals without conceding once in five matches.
Coach Tom Sermanni, who was appointed just ahead of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup, was pleased with yet another outstanding performance from his charges as they secured the title and a return to the global stage once more.
“I’m very happy today. I’ve been happy with the way the players have done the job throughout the tournament,” he said.
“The way we’ve played, the way we’ve approached games, the way the players have prepared for games. Obviously, we’ve had some good results and the players are pleased, they’ve worked hard and they’ve been tremendous on the field and off the field and I think the things we’ve done well is scored early goals to make things a little easier for ourselves.”
In all of New Zealand’s matches they’ve been able to find the net within the first 15 minutes, with the quickest goal coming in the opening minute of their semi-final against New Caledonia.
This evening was no different with Rosie White taking just two minutes to find the back of the net with a stumbling strike to open the Ferns account.
Sarah Gregorius added one a few minutes later from the penalty spot after being brought down in the box, and as Fiji underestimated the speed with which their opponents would come out of the starting blocks.
Things seemed to settle somewhat after those two early openers with Fiji’s defence falling into a formation which seemed more capable of buffering the wave of attacks from New Zealand.
The Football Ferns were dominant from start to finish with Betsy Hassett managing the midfield alongside Annalie Longo, while the wing backs of Ria Percival and Ali Riley added extra bodies on attack which Fiji struggled to contain.
Despite holding up well for over 30 minutes, New Zealand were finally able to break down the defences once more when Hassett struck in the 38thminute before Meikayla Moore also added to the tally to give the Ferns a four-goal buffer coming back from the break.
Fiji were left down a player for the second half after Cema Nasau received a second yellow card in the 40thminute following a challenge on Percival which earned her her marching orders.
Once again New Zealand were much quicker off the mark following the restart with Ria Percival and Katie Rood finding the back of the net in the 46thand 48thminutes resprecively.
Hassett, Gregorius and White each added a second each to secure the 8-0 victory for their side.
While his side well and truly romped to victory, Sermanni was quick to acknowledge the side for their willingness to bring their game to New Zealand.
“Fiji put up a good display today and it obviously became difficult for them when they lost a player. But you know, I’ve been impressed with the opposition we’ve come up against in the sense that we’ve got players that play professionally which makes my life a lot easier, but the teams that we’ve been playing against in this tournament have shown a great amount of heart and character despite what they’re up against and what the results have been.”
For Sermanni’s opposite Marika Rodu, to make it to the final was a bonus given they had to come through the qualifying stage however he knows there is further room for improvement.
“I’m happy with the overall performance and the outcome of the tournament but how we managed this game was totally unacceptable. That said, to lose to a better team we can take that,” he said.
“We can now reflect back on this game because it’s the kind of match where you can measure your status in the region. You play the best team in the region and you can see the difference. There’s a gap – a technical gap and the physical component as well.
“That’s not to take anything away from the New Zealand team. I want to congratulate them for this victory and I wish them all the best in 2019 in France.
For the girls and I it’s a good experience, a learning curve for us.”
In the play-off for third place it was Papua New Guinea taking on New Caledonia in a match for the bronze medal and the bragging rights of a podium finish.
Going into the match both sides were motivated to do well and restore some pride after being knocked out of the semi-finals and it looked like it would be a close encounter despite Papua New Guinea running out to a 6-2 victory when they met during the group stage.
On that occasion Marie Kaipu was the irritant for New Caledonia, this time it was Meagen Gunemba taking up the mantle in her teammates absence as she took just five minutes to outpace the backline and slot the opener past Dolores Bodeouarou.
Clearly unhappy to have conceded so early on, New Caledonia worked hard to find an equaliser, controlling the midfield for long periods but struggling to find a connection between the middle and the attacking line. They managed to get off a couple of shots, Ami-Nata Ajapuhnya with the best of them, however Papua New Guinea goalkeeper Betty Sam was barely tested.
It was a much tougher day on the pitch for her counterpart Bodeouarou who had to deal Gunemba and her striker partner Yvonne Gabong becoming constant threats with their darting runs in behind the defence.
Gunemba had her brace by the 36thminute while Gabong added a third goal to the team’s tally just before the break.
Selina Unamba was next on the board as PNG extended the lead to four before Gunemba had her hat-trick in the 54thminute.
New Caledonia made a key change in the 59thminute as teenager Jackie Pahoa entered the field, taking just one minute to find the back of the net.
However, that only motivated Papua New Guinea to do more as Gunemba struck in the 82ndfor her fourth of the afternoon before captain Sandra Birum made it seven.
Winning coach Peter Gunemba was pleased his side were able to take something home from a tournament which proved more gruelling than usual for his side.
“I’m proud of the girls. I told them we don’t have to go home empty handed, we win third place and that’s it,” he said.
“I expected this performance should be in the semi-final but it didn’t happen so I was pleased to see them play this way today as that’s what I expect from them.
“The girls really wanted to play but because of the fitness we couldn’t stand a chance against Fiji. I think we will need to prepare a bit earlier for the Pacific Games.”
Meanwhile for Kamali Fitialeata it was not the way he wanted to end the tournament but conceded Papua New Guinea was the better side on the day.
“The match was tough, I thought the girls were ready for today but then I get the impression they were tired, worn out,” he said.
“It was a tough tournament but it was the same for all the teams, we all played the same number of games, made the same trips so for us, I’m not sure what exactly it was but perhaps there’s an unconscious block when it comes to Papua New Guinea.”
In the competition’s individual awards it was New Zealand who took home the majority with the team picking up Fairplay, while Sarah Gregorius was joint-top scorer along with Papua New Guinea’s Meagen Gunemba.
Consistent performances across the course of the competition led to New Zealand midfielder Betsy Hassett earning the Golden Ball while Fiji goalkeeper Adi Tuwai was awarded the Golden Gloves.
New Zealand’s victory sees them join 23 other nations at next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. They also qualify to represent Oceania at the Olympic Women’s Football TOuranment in 2020.