Newly-crowned champions New Zealand have signed off on the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in fine style with a convincing 9-0 win over Tonga on the final day of the tournament at Ngahue Reserve in Auckland.
Having already secured first place and accompanying passage to the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup on Friday, the main target for Gareth Turnbull’s side was to keep building on their progress and finish with a flourish.
They achieved both in unseasonably sunny conditions as Tonga fought gallantly but had little answer to the quality of New Zealand’s play.
Despite little riding on the result in terms of the tournament outcome, Turnbull fielded a strong side with the likes of Anna Leat, Grace Jale and Malia Steinmetz – who have all been members of the senior Football Ferns squad – featuring, along with the free-scoring Sam Tawharu, Hannah Blake and Emma Main.
The latter made a huge impact in the opening stages, following up Hannah Blake’s ninth-minute opener with a quick-fire hat-trick to put the home nation well in control at 4-0 up. It took Main just seven minutes to complete her treble, the first arriving in the 13th minute before two goals in two minutes from the 19th.
With conditions far more favourable than in Friday’s 6-0 win over Samoa, it was 5-0 by the break after Main added her fourth in the 37th minute. Turnbull then made a pair of changes for the second period, Sarah Morton and Elizabeth Anton making way for Emma Clarke and Serena Murrihy respectively.
The attacking combination was still intact though and, with Main, Blake and Tawharu all in the running for the tournament’s golden boot, there was every reason for the trio to continue looking to find the net.
But Tonga provided much sterner resistance throughout much of the second half and, despite New Zealand enjoying almost exclusive possession of the ball, clear-cut scoring chances proved harder to come by.
Tawharu, who went into the match as New Zealand’s leading scorer with nine strikes, was kept scoreless for the first time in the tournament – in all four other matches she has scored at least twice – and was replaced by Dayna Stevens just past the hour.
The well-executed deep block of Tonga continued to frustrate New Zealand and it wasn’t until the 77th minute that they were able to add to their tally through Deven Jackson.
Michaela Foster, Grace Jale and an own goal then padded out the scoreline late on as New Zealand signed off on the tournament in net-busting fashion.
“We still wanted to put out a strong team and the line-up was reflective of a group of players we felt deserved the opportunity to start the last game based on their performances,” Turnbull said.
“We couldn’t really learn from playing in our new shape from the last match because of the conditions so it was a chance to learn from some of those areas. It was difficult to go through Tonga and they defended really compactly in the second half which always makes life difficult, irrespective of how much ball you have,” he added.
“Overall, we were really pleased. At half-time I said it was the best first 45 minutes we’ve put together and, in a new shape that we haven’t had a lot of experience with, I thought we found the solutions really well. The second half was a bit disjointed with some of the subs coming on at half-time and we kind of lost our rhythm but the fact we finished strongly and put some goals away at the end was pleasing.”
The focus for Turnbull and co will now turn to preparing for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, which takes place in France from August 7 to 26.
New Zealand 9 (Hannah Blake 9’, Emma Main 13’, 19’, 20’, 37’, Deven Jackson 77’, Michaela Foster 84’, Grace Jale 89’, own goal 90’ + 1’)
New Zealand: 1. Anna Leat (GK), 3. Rebecca Lake (c), 4. Elizabeth Anton (20. Serena Murrihy 46′), 5. Sarah Morton (12. Emma Clarke 46′), 6. Grace Jale, 7. Emma Main, 8. Malia Steinmetz, 9. Sam Tawharu (17. Dayna Stevens 64′), 10. Hannah Blake, 15. Michaela Foster, 19. Deven Jackson
Substitutes not used; 2. Saskia Vosper, 11. Jacqui Hand, 13. Nadia Olla (GK), 14. Claudia Bunge, 16. Nicole Mettam, 18. ‘Alosi Bloomfield
Coach: Gareth Turnbull