Cook Islands have advanced to the Semi-Finals at OFC U-19 Women’s Championship 2023 after an engaging and intense Quarter-Final battle with Vanuatu.

Hereatea Mapu’s close-range header with 25 minutes remaining was the decisive moment in a match that balanced on a knife-edge throughout.

Vanuatu were the early pacesetters, seeing most of the ball and territorial advantage but unable to carve out any clear threats on goal.

In the 13th minute, Valerie Viralolokwai’s cross from the right-hand side was punched clear to the edge of the area by goalkeeper Kimberly Uini but Angelina Poida’s resulting half-volley flew over the bar.

It was Cook Islands however that took the lead, when Jan Taia’s long-distance free-kick floated over defender and teammate alike only to be spilled by Vanuatu goalkeeper Manuela Bong, over her shoulder and into the net.

The lead last a little over 10 minutes and it was the influential Elina Aruvuha who got her side back level. Chasing a hopeful ball over the top of the Cook Islands backline, Aruvuha beat goalkeeper Uini to the ball and looped her headed effort into the back of the net, sending the sizeable contingent of Vanuatu supporters into a frenzy.

Aruvuha so nearly doubled her tally and her side’s lead after Valerie Viralolokwai’s effort from distance came back of the inside of the right-hand post, Aruvuha was on hand to capitalise but could only skew her effort wide with the goal gaping.

Vanuatu came out for the second half with a continued purpose and determination but couldn’t find a way past the Cook Islands iron-clad defence. The trio of Eline Aruvuha, Valerie Viralolokwai and Angelina Poida were at the heart of every Vanuatu attack but struggled to test goalkeeper Uini.

Cook Islands built on their strong defence with their now expected prowess from set pieces and it was a corner that led to the winner. Jan Taia swung in an excellent delivery that was nodded down by Tearoa Rouru into the six yard box and Hereatea Mapu was on hand to flick the ball past Bong and into the net.

Vanuatu pushed desperately for an equaliser but were limited to shots from distance and crosses from out wide, all dealt with by the exemplary Uini.

Cook Islands now have a Semi-Final to look forward to against defending champions New Zealand on Wednesday evening at HFC Bank Stadium.

Cook Islands: 2 (Jan TAIA 20′, Hereatea MAPU 65′)
Vanuatu: 1 (Elina ARUVUHA 31′)

HT: 1-1