We’ve reached the business end of the OFC U-17 Championship 2023 in Fiji, with our second semi-final being between hosts Fiji and defending champions New Zealand.
Fiji v New Zealand
Wednesday, 25 January
HFC Bank Stadium, Suva, Fiji | 7.00pm kick-off local time
You have to hand it to Fiji: they’ve been the most consistent team in the tournament so far. They’ve beaten all their opponents – Samoa, Tonga and Cook Islands by the same margin of 3-0, with the win over the Tongans coming in torrential rain at HFC Bank Stadium.
Their main worry though has been discipline, they’ve picked up five yellow cards and a red in their last two games, so they will need to be wary of that against a New Zealand team that has been defensively solid.
Fiji’s best finish at a U-17 tournament was second, way back in 1999 when they lost to then OFC-member Australia in the final. Captain Aron Naicker is looking forward to playing in front of a big home crowd.
New Zealand have scored 16 goals in the tournament so far, but none was as important as Luke Supyk’s last minute penalty kick to win his side their quarter-final against Vanuatu. In a very tough game, the young Kiwis came up trumps when it mattered, which impressed coach Martin Bullock.
NZ have been hit with an injury to captain Marley Leuluai, but they haven’t conceded a goal since their opening match against New Caledonia.
They will go in as favourites to this semi-final, as NZ are not only defending champions, but have won the last seven editions of this tournament. Defender Luka Coveny says the team has enjoyed themselves so far in the tournament and that “the team culture has been unreal.”