New Caledonia beats Fiji 2-0 in shock upset

OFC Release - New Caledonia came up with the first upset of the OFC U-17 Qualifying Tournament by beating Fiji 2-0 in the second match of the opening round of Group A on Friday (Thursday local time).

Fiji's loss now blows Group A wide open with earlier predictions backing Fiji to cruise through to the playoff with the Group B winner later in the month. New Caledonia brought a young team and compared to the Fijians were at a distinct physical disadvantage.

But from the opening whistle, an upset looked on the cards with New Caledonia able to snuff out any attacking raids made by the Fijians. New Caledonia showed great organisation all-round and their defence were able to shut down Fiji's main striker, Osea Vakatalesau, who was one of Fiji's heroes in the OFC U-20 Qualifying Tournament last December.

While the Fijians were making much of the play and enjoyed a wealth of possession, quite often in New Caledonia's half, they were unable to pierce the swarming defence. New Caledonia used their speed to harass the Fijians in numbers, while on attack they showed good tactical sense and did not rush their opportunities probing for weaknesses constantly with the little possession they did get.

And this paid just before half-time when they made a capitalised on a turnover, quickly transferring the ball to their quick forwards. Fiji was unable to react in time and conceded a penalty after Jone Vesikula made a desperate tackle in the box. Kenjy Vendegou stepped up to the spot and made no mistake.

Going into the break 1-0 proved the turning point in the match. But Fiji came back strongly in the second half, however, the New Caledonians - like in the first half - were able to regroup in defence to keep the potent Fijian forwards at bay. Pushing all their players forwards towards the end of the game, New Caledonia were again able to capitalise against the run of play with a well timed pass finding Mone Wamowe, who beat the off-side trip to find himself in space and he skilfully beat the Fijian goalkeeper to put the result beyond doubt. There was a hint of offside but assistant referee Patrick McCaffrey of Australia was in good position.

Fiji has a bye in round two and will have plenty to think about, while New Caledonia can put themselves in a strong position in Group A should they beat American Samoa in their next game. The Cook Islands play Samoa in the other round two match. Group B matches start today at the Sunshine Coast in Australia with hosts Australia playing the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu taking on Tonga, and New Zealand playing Tahiti.

Photo: New Caledonia on the attack against Fiji


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