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22nd of October 2018

Sport



New Zealand edge closer to U-17 World Cup

New Zealand are just one step away from a place in the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup after a hard-earned 4-3 win over Papua New Guinea put them into the semi-finals of the OFC U-16 Championship in the Solomon Islands today.

Jose Figueira’s side went into the clash knowing a draw would be enough to see them through but had to show great character, overcoming scorching Honiara heat and an outstanding display from their opponents to bounce back from a half-time deficit and progress to the final four.

With two World Cup places on offer to the Oceania region at this tournament, another win in the semi-finals - in which they are likely to meet Tahiti - would book a ticket to the big show in Peru next September.

But that prospect seemed far off at one point this afternoon when New Zealand found themselves a goal down at the break to a Papua New Guinea side who were also fighting to keep their World Cup dream alive.

The Kiwis had suffered a significant knock to their confidence in the previous match with a defeat to the Solomon Islands and Figueira opted to make full use of his squad depth with only captain Campbell Strong, Oskar Van Hattum and Sean Bright keeping their places in the starting line-up.

The new-look side began brightly in the sweltering conditions and could have put the game to bed early on as Van Hattum, Joseph Lee and Matthew Garbett all had good chances but couldn’t find the net, the latter going closest with a shot that crashed into the crossbar.

New Zealand were dominating proceedings but were made to pay for passing up those earlier opportunities when Papua New Guinea went ahead against the run of play just before the break. Goalkeeper Alex Paulsen was dispossessed on the edge of his area by Siegfried Beschel, who then rolled the ball into an empty net to the delight of his team mates.

That left Figueira with plenty to do in the half-time break and he turned to his bench to haul New Zealand back into the contest, Henry Hamilton and Bradley Wilson both being introduced. It turned out to be an inspired double substitution as both players scored within minutes of coming on to put their country back in control.

Firstly, Hamilton somehow squeezed home a low strike from the edge of the penalty area to equalise and Wilson then finished off a swift break by charging into the box and curling a perfectly-placed shot into the bottom corner. The counter attack again proved a lethal weapon for New Zealand soon after, Hamilton notching his second by getting on the end of another flowing move and tucking home.

Now with a two-goal cushion, it looked like Figueira’s thoughts could start turning to the semi-finals but Papua New Guinea weren’t about to give up on their chances of making Peru without a fight and were right back in it with 15 minutes remaining when Beschel struck again.

New Zealand were back in control seven minutes later when a Benjamin Old strike went in off the underside of the crossbar but Papua New Guinea again refused to lie down as Beschel completed his hat-trick in the last minute of regulation time. That led to a nervy final few minutes for New Zealand but they kept their composure to retain the lead and take a second win of the tournament into the semi-finals.

"I was really delighted with the way we started the game, I think we created four beautiful chances by building through the thirds," Figueira said.

"I think the boys then suddenly thought it was coming a bit easy and that the goal would come but we made it clear at half-time that the teams we’re playing against here don’t give up and you can’t take anything for granted. We then saw a great reaction in the second half but, again, unfortunately the mentality just slips and we get a little bit lazy and complacent," he added.

"We’re happy to get the win to secure the semi but, again, there’s big lessons for the boys today."

The identity of New Zealand’s next opponents will be confirmed tomorrow when the group stages of the OFC U-16 Championship wrap up and the semi-finals are set to take place on Wednesday 19 September.

Please find attached audio from a post-match interview with New Zealand U-17 coach Jose Figueira.

Match Details

New Zealand 4 (Henry Hamilton 47’, 55’, Bradley Wilson 48’, Benjamin Old 83’)

Papua New Guinea 3 (Siegfried Beschel 37’, 75’, 90’)

HT: 0-1

New Zealand: 1. Alex Paulsen (GK), 3. Kris Naicker, 6. Campbell Strong (c), 7. Marko Stamenic, 10. Joseph Lee (15. Bradley Wilson 46’), 11. Matthew Garbett, 13. Finn O’Connor, 14. Oskar Van Hattum (18. Benjamin Old 56’), 16. Sean Bright (9. Henry Hamilton 46’), 19. Hayden Aish, 20. Harry Bark

Substitutes not used: 2. Max Drake, 4. Adam Hillis, 5. Ryan Verney, 8. Jackson Manuel, 12. Luca Taylor (GK), 17. Nathan Lobo

Coach: Jose Figueira

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