Image: A Papua New Guinean player bowing head in dismay as final play marked their end in the campaign
New Caledonia and New Zealand have booked their tickets to the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India after defeating Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea respectively in two nail-biting semi-final clashes in the OFC U-17 Championship in Tahiti yesterday.
New Zealand sealed their sixth consecutive qualification but needed a 94th-minute winner from substitute Oliver Whyte to edge past Papua New Guinea, 2-1 just as their match looked headed for penalties.
In the second semi-final, the first few minutes of the match looked like a repeat of New Zealand’s 11-0 win against Samoa in the Group Stage, with the defending champions up 1-0 in the third minute after Papua New Guinea’s Aben Pukue tried to clear a cross but found the back of his own net.
Papua New Guinea soon scored again, this time, past Zac Jones, when Barthy Kerobin volleyed a deflection into the net, ending the first half with the score tied 1-1.
The second half saw both teams fight neck-and-neck in the middle of the park, taking turns at pressuring their opponent’s goal but failing to break the backlines.
Charles Spragg stood out up front for the Kiwis with several on-target attempts but Graham Berigami’s quick hands blocked every one of Spragg’s chances and kept the Papua New Guinean’s in the game.
Oliver Whyte made his heroic move when he charged into the penalty box and, in full stretch, reached a toe to the ball and sent it into the bottom right corner in the third minute of extra time to send his nation to the final, and to the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay felt very lucky to walk away with the win against a very talented and passionate Papua New Guinea side. With his initial goal of the competition achieved, Hay is now looking forward to giving one last fighting performance in the OFC U-17 Championship final before he turns his focus to preparation for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
Despite their last minute loss to New Zealand ending their World Cup dream, Papua New Guinea coach Harrison Kamake was stunned by their performance and proud of the relentless effort put it by his young side.
Papua New Guinea will now face the Solomon islands in the 3rd and 4th play-off.