New Zealand have claimed the Oceania Football U19 Championship after a hard fought 1 nil victory over the tournament hosts Tahiti in the final at Stade Pater in Pirae tonight.
The defining moment came shortly after half-time when Matthew Conroy used his speed to take the ball to the by-line on a counter-attack and cut back well for Trevor Zwetsloot to hit a powerful shot past Tahitian keeper Moana Pito. The 18-year-old from Germany’s Werder Bremen delivered the decisive strike in the final.
It was a pivotal period in the match as moments earlier Tahitian captain Roonui Tehau hit a goal-bound free-kick which was superbly tipped over the bar by New Zealand goalkeeper Cameron Brown.
Both teams had already qualified for the FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland next year with the top two teams advancing, but the main prize of the OFC U19 title was up for grabs with the French Polynesians looking to win the title for the third time at home.
But it was New Zealand, under Head Coach Des Buckingham, who continued their superb record in the OFC U19 Championship. The defending champions claimed their seventh title and their fifth of the past six tournaments in a performance of character and resilience.
Buckingham was delighted with the team’s performance throughout the tournament as they went through undefeated, scored 23 goals and only conceded two.
“It was a very tough game and you can see the work that Tahiti have put in over the past year,” said Buckingham.
“It really shows on the pitch and they are very hard to break down. We had four days in a camp before we came here so for the players to adapt the way that they have in a short space of time is really pleasing. For both New Zealand and Tahiti to go and represent Oceania at the World Cup next year is a great achievement for both.”
New Zealand captain Joe Bell, who again led by example with a commanding performance in the midfield, said it was a hugely satisfying to book their place in the FIFA U-20 World Cup and also win the championship.
“I am really happy with how the team performed,” said the 19-year-old who plays his football for the University of Virginia.
“The boys put in a great shift in that game. It was very hard and there have been some very talented teams over here. I am very proud to be able to lead them through this. We came here to qualify but we also wanted to win the tournament.
“Our focus is now next year on the World Cup which is going to be very tough but we have a good coaching staff and we will be well prepared for whatever we are going to face.”
With a large crowd behind them, the hosts began in positive fashion but it was New Zealand who could have taken the lead with a number of early opportunities.
New Zealand’s prolific goal scoring forward Max Mata, who led the Golden Boot standings coming into the final with five goals, nearly got on the end of a set-piece delivery inside the box in the sixth minute. Mata did not score in the final but finished with the golden boot, ahead of team-mates Charles Spragg (4), Bell and Oliver Whyte (3) and Tahitian duo Eddy Kaspard and Roonui Tehau (3).
A minute later central midfielder Dino Botica unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the area but the Tahitian keeper Moana Pito was up to the challenge.
In the 13th minute when Mata was played into space with a great opportunity on goal, following a superb solo run from Williem Ebbinge down the left, but the forward missed the target.
Tahiti grew into the game and created some scoring opportunities midway through the first half. In the 23rd minute skipper Tehau hit a shot from the edge of the box which was just wide of the top corner. The locals’ best chance came when Terai Bremond found space outside of the area and hit a shot that had New Zealand keeper Brown beaten but it was wide of the post.
At the other end of the pitch, New Zealand could have taken the lead when Botica headed over the cross bar from close range and it remained 0-0 at half time.
The first few minutes after the break changed the game. In the 46th minute, Terai Bremond was brought down by Jordan Spain on the edge of the area, with the Kiwi defender earning a yellow card for his challenge. Tehau hit a superb free-kick which was goal bound only for Brown to athletically tip it over it over the bar. Three minutes later Zwetsloot scored at the other end on a counterattack.
New Zealand had other chances in the final stages – most notably when Mata went down in the box in the 82nd minute but referee George Time waved away claims for a penalty.
Tahiti had a golden chance in the 84th minute when Tehau found space in the box after fine lead up work from Tutehau Tufaroua but the skipper could not keep his attempt from close range and it flew over the bar. Tahitian forward Eddy Kaspard also could not convert in injury time as New Zealand held on for a memorable 1-0 win and their seventh win in the Oceania U-19 Championship.