New Zealand and Tahiti have qualified for next year’s FIFA Under 20 Men’s World Cup after semi final victories over New Caledonia and Solomon Islands at the OFC Under 19 Championship.
New Zealand trailed their Francophone opponents at half-time but two second half goals sealed a 2-1 comeback victory and a fifth straight World Cup appearance.
Striker Max Mata made amends for a 41st minute own-goal, heading home the equaliser ten minutes into the second spell, after meeting the delivery from Willem Ebbinge’s free kick.
Super sub Ebbinge then struck what proved to be the winning goal 15 minutes from time to seal a 2-1 comeback victory for the defending OFC champions.
Coach Des Buckingham was pleased with how his players responded to going a goal down.
“I think it was a really tough game, New Caledonia have given as good as they got and have been a really tough opponent and we fully expected that,” he said.
“It was the first time in the tournament that we got a goal down, we had to chase the game, full credit to the players to be one nil down to come back.
“Maybe the performance isn’t pretty as it could have been but to get the result and put themselves in the World Cup next year is a fantastic achievement for the players and for the country.”
New Caledonia boss Felix Tagawa was left to rue what could have been.
“Of course it’s a disappointing result especially when we managed to control our adversary,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the late match at Stade Pater Tahiti outclassed Solomon Islands 3-1.
Captain Roonui Tehau headed Tahiti into the lead in first half stoppage time before Rainui Nordman and Eddy Kaspard scored in a four minute burst late in the second half to clinch victory in front of their home supporters.
Tahiti coach Bruno Tehaamoana said his players’ deserved the victory and a place in the World Cup for the first time since 2009.
“I think the honour goes to the players. They applied everything we asked of them and it’s for that reason that tonight’s victory is so beautiful, because of them,” he said.
“All the months they’ve put in, all the sacrifices they’ve made I congratulate them for their efforts, they deserve this.
“It’s true that we’ve had other generations which have come before, but this one definitely deserves its place among them.”
Solomon Islands managed a late consolation goal through Ali Mekawir but it was too little too late for Batram Suri’s side, who suffered their first defeat in four games.
“I think when we conceded the first goal seconds before half-time, we gave away an easy goal,” he said.
“The boys gave their best in the second half, we pushed so many players up the pitch which left spaces in defence that Tahiti capitalised on.
“Congratulations to Tahiti for making it to the World Cup and I believe our day will come one day.”
Having secured their place in Poland next year, New Zealand and Tahiti will square off in the Oceania final on Saturday local time.