Vanuatu, New Caledonia advance, champs out


PAPUA New Guinea held defending champions Fiji to a 1-1 draw at the OFC Under-20 men’s soccer championship on Saturday but both will return home after failing to advance into the finals.
Vanuatu notched their third straight victory on Saturday, a 1-0 win over New Caledonia, which sees them top Group A and stay in Port Vila for the semifinals.
Defending champions Fiji are heading home after they could only manage a 1-1 draw in their match against PNG.
Vanuatu’s Ronaldo Wilkins had a penalty saved in first-half injury time, but New Caledonia’s goalkeeper Mickael Ulile had moved off his line early giving Wilkins the chance to convert the retake for the game’s only goal.
It now earns them a semifinal against Solomon Islands in Port Vila tomorrow with the winner claiming a place in next year’s Fifa Under-20 World Cup in Korea.
New Caledonia also qualify for the semifinals, travelling to Santo to challenge New Zealand for the other of Oceania’s two World Cup tickets.
Vanuatu’s perfect nine point haul sees them top a group at an OFC age-group championship for the first time and will allow them to prepare for tomorrow’s big match in the familiar surrounds of the Vanuatu Football Federation Academy.
“We’re happy to achieve the goal of winning the group and earning a semi-final in Port Vila,” said Vanuatu’s technical advisor Declan Edge.
New Caledonia made a raft of changes for the match against Vanuatu match but it almost paid off in a tense encounter.
With Fiji missing out on all three points, New Caledonia were assured of their semifinal place before kick-off and had the freedom to attack in an effort to defeat the hosts and top the group themselves.
However, New Caledonia coach Kemali Fitealeata was content despite the defeat. “We’ve achieved our primary objective of reaching the semifinals but we now face a short turnaround and a trip to play New Zealand.” Earlier in the day Fiji drew 1-1 with PNG, falling short of the victory they needed to keep the pressure on New Caledonia in the semifinal hunt.
A free kick from Peter Dabinyaba Jr eluded everyone in the 35th minute to give PNG the lead but Fiji’s best player on the day, France Catarogo, pulled his side level with 20 minutes to play. “We’re happy to go with a point from today,” said PNG coach Peter Gunemba.

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