Heat comes on as semi-finals await

Make or break time is here for the semi-finalists at the 2016 OFC U-17 Women’s Championship in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

After navigating their way through pool play New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Fiji will fight for a spot in the final of the tournament, where direct qualification to the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 awaits for the eventual winner.

New Zealand and Fiji kick off the semis on 21 January at the CIFA Academy from 2pm local time.

After playing through three pool games without conceding a single goal, Gareth Turnbull’s New Zealand side are deserving of their reputation as the form team of the competition.

While they haven’t been letting them in at the defensive end they have been scoring them for fun up front, enjoying 11-0, 12-0 and 13-0 victories against Samoa, New Caledonia and Tonga respectively.

Turnbull believes his side are improving with every match, and was impressed with their response to a deep-set Tonga defensive formation on Match Day 5.

“It was good that we had that experience against Tonga and were still able to score 13 goals,” Turnbull says.

“We are happy with the progress we are making as a squad and are looking forward to the test against Fiji.

“Fiji are a well-organised team with some dangerous players in attack, and one of the most-athletic and consistent keepers at the tournament.”

Fiji had to wait until after the final whistle on Match Day 5 to confirm their spot in the next round, with their 2-2 draw with Papua New Guinea enough to see them through after Vanuatu were upset by Cook Islands.

After coming back from one-goal deficits twice in that match Fiji will feel confident even if they go behind against the defending champions, but coach Yogendra Dutt is under no false illusions about the challenge that awaits.

“We have plenty of respect for New Zealand, they are our big sisters in this situation,” Dutt says.

“They have been in great form, but we will form a plan to try and target them in any way we can.

“For us it will be important to stay focussed on defence and to make the most of any chances we get up front.”

In the second semi-final – which kicks off at 5pm local time on 21 January at the CIFA Academy – Group B winners Papua New Guinea face New Caledonia.

Papua New Guinea join New Zealand as the only team to go through pool play without a defeat, but after a first-up 7-1 drubbing of Vanuatu they have struggled a little, edging Cook Islands 2-1 before the draw with Fiji on Match Day 5.

Coach Margaret Aka says sorting their defensive issues will be a major focus ahead of the semi-final.

“It was frustrating that we couldn’t get the win against Fiji because we led the game twice and really should have been able to hold them out,” Aka says.

“Our defence has been a bit of a problem the last two games so that will be something to work on ahead of New Caledonia.

“New Caledonia bring plenty in attack, so limiting that will be vital.”

New Caledonia finished group play with a big 5-0 victory over Samoa, regaining some of the confidence which was lost in the 12-0 defeat by New Zealand on Match Day 5.

Scoring goals isn’t a major area of concern for Matthieu Delcroix’s side, but they head into the knockout stage with the worst defensive record of all the semi-final teams, conceding 12 goals in three matches.

Delcroix says fixing that is a must ahead of the meeting with a fast and efficient Papua New Guinea attacking unit.

“Their forward players are fast and the entire team transitions very well. We will need to watch out for their long ball,” Delcroix says.

“Papua New Guinea are an aggressive team with good technical players.

“We were happy with how we went in the last game, we had some issues with the Samoa long ball, but in terms of the goals we are happy. We have worked on our combination play, so we will see if that works against PNG.”

Additional Information:

New Zealand vs. Fiji
CIFA Academy
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Thursday 21 January 2016
Kick-off: 2pm (local)