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Race for podium finish still wide open

They have one hand on the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship trophy and New Zealand want to make it a clean sweep when they play their final match of the competition against Tonga at Ngahue Reserve tomorrow.
While the Kiwis hold an unattainable lead in the standings, three sides remain very much in the hunt for the two remaining positions on the podium.

Second-placed Fiji will play New Caledonia and a win or draw for either side would see them remain on the podium, but only if Samoa manages to get a result over Papua New Guinea in the day’s final encounter.

New Zealand remain focused on themselves and their own performances rather than those of their opponents. Coach Gareth Turnbull tried a new system against Samoa, a side whose first half performance had the prolific New Zealanders scratching their heads.

“It’s certainly the deepest defensive block we’ve come across this tournament which took us a while to figure out,” Turnbull said.

However by the second half the Kiwis had their head around their new style and started breaking down Samoa’s deep defending.

“The whole focus has been on us and we want to constantly improve and get better in the different areas.”

Whether Turnbull sticks with the changes or reverts to the previous formation remains to be seen, but his side’s ability to adapt means either option will have Tonga working hard.

After going down to New Caledonia despite an impressive team performance, Tongan heads are down, but the side is not out yet. Playing New Zealand, while tough, is a challenge most teams enjoy and Tonga will be stepping up to get the best result possible.

Coach Christian Koaneti said although the loss against New Caledonia wasn’t what they wanted, the effort from his side meant he couldn’t be too disappointed.

“Whatever the result, if I see the girl’s giving their all I can’t be too disappointed with the result,” he said.

But knowing the challenge ahead, the side will be hoping that like Samoa, they too can keep a high-scoring side down to as little as possible to end the tournament in the best manner possible.

New Caledonia have been on a roller-coaster ride throughout the competition so far. An opening win over Samoa had them on a high before two successive beating came at the hands of Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

They got back on track against Tonga and now coach Kamali Fitialeata wants to see the same winning attitude reflected in tomorrow’s performance against Fiji. Currently sitting in fourth place in the standings, a win over the Fijians could secure New Caledonia a podium finish ahead of their opponent.

“Of course we want to finish the competition well,” Fitialeata said.

“If we can perform as we did against Tonga I think we should do well. But we certainly won’t be underestimating Fiji who have shown they are a very strong side.”

After doing away with Tonga in their opening match, Fiji looked like they might be the side that would cause the most trouble for New Zealand after the defending champions swept Papua New Guinea aside.

However Saroj Kumar’s side appeared overwhelmed by their opponent and fell just as hard at their feet.
They appear to have righted the ship after a two thrilling matches against Samoa and Papua New Guinea and will have their sights firmly set on one final victory in this competition.

The side is hard-working and talented, and Kumar believed the ability of the players to continue pushing their opponents is one of their stronger qualities.

“We have taken this competition one day at a time, as I’ve said from the beginning, and we will continue to take it one game at a time.

“We are still playing for Francine, we want to keep getting results,” Kumar said.

Both sides will be slightly weaker than in previous matches with New Caledonia having to do without starters Cassidy Cawa and Marie-Laure Palene, while Fiji will be without Asenaca Diranuve with each of them suspended for the final match.

In the last encounter of the day, and the tournament, Samoa will go up against Papua New Guinea in what should be an exciting match-up.

Papua New Guinea proved against Fiji that they’re not a side that gives up easily, and they will need to bring all of that resolve to the field when they take on one of the competition’s most stubborn defensive lines.

Samoa’s ability to hold New Zealand to just a 2-0 lead at half-time was proof they’re capable of defending well when required and only the leaders have conceded less goals than the Samoans so far.

Coach Martin Tamasese believes his side has shone in each of their matches so far, and he expects another stellar performance on Monday.

Having encounter the physicality of Tonga and Fiji, and come off reasonably well, Papua New Guinea coach Rachel Wadunah is confident her team will be able to play to their strengths to once more counter the physical element their opponent will present.

She expects her side will also be more accurate on attack, especially after reviewing the match against Fiji and realising just how many chances they let slip through the cracks.

“The girls did very well against Fiji but they had a lot of opportunities to score but never put those away,” Wadunah said.

“Mentally they were strong and that was good, we need to see that toughness again in this final game.”

Story courtesy of OFC.

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