New Caledonia pushed hard before realising victory

OFC Release - Samoa saved their best for last, but it wasn't enough to cause an upset over Group A leaders New Caledonia today. New Caledonia sustained a spirited display by the Samoans to win 2-0, notching up their fourth consecutive victory to take out Group B and stave off a late comeback by the Fijians who earlier beat hosts American Samoa 8-0 to consolidate second position in the group.
New Caledonia is waiting on a decision by OFC as to whether they will be allowed to advance to the final playoff against the winner of Group B next week. New Caledonia is not a full member of FIFA but is an OFC provisional member and allowed to participate in Oceania competitions. Fiji, as the next best team in Group A, will advance should the ruling go against New Caledonia.
No matter what the result, New Caledonia has performed extremely well during the 2003 OFC U-17 Qualifying Tournament and managed the biggest upset by beating favourites Fiji 2-0 in the opening Group A match on 13 February.
New Caledonia won all their remaining matches from there on in against American Samoa, Cook Islands then Samoa. But Samoa provided a tough challenge in the final match competing well in the first half where they were able to trouble the New Caledonia defence and hold their own in the possession stakes.
While Samoa were able to gain some parity against the more fancied New Caledonians, they undid all the good work in the second half with simple defensive errors which cost them the game in the end. Albert Hnageje was able to bag two opportunist goals for New Caledonia within a ten minute period.
It was an all too familiar scenario for Samoan coach David Brand, who also saw his national U-20 team come close to an upset over New Zealand last December only to see victory elude their grasp through elementary errors of their own making.
"The boys were more disciplined today and played to plan in the first half. We chose to take the game to them (New Caledonia) and did this causing a few problems for them and I think they were a little concerned, with our goalkeeper having little to do," he afterwards from American Samoa.
"In the second half they got more on top but ten minutes after the break we gave away the first goal with a bad clearance to on of their players who only had the goalkeeper to beat; all the good work thrown away with one moment of panic instead of composure."
It got worse after the first goal just minutes later.
"Again bad defending conceded the second goal. As a result, we gave away the game. Passing was better but again we continue to waste possession - very frustrating," Brand added.
"In the end we were beaten by a stronger more skilful team but I was pleased that we have improved as the week progressed. Pity we can't start now. This emphasises the need for quality preparation games. Brand rued the absence of star performer Seti Talalelei who was injured in the first match against the Cook Islands. He also rued the lack of a reliable striker after seeing many shots on goal go begging and opportunities to score squandered on numerous occasions.


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