Fiji’s center-back, Angeline Rekha, was named the player of the match in the national team’s 3-0 defeat against New Zealand in their first game of the OFC U19 Women’s Championship at the HFC Stadium in Suva.
Despite carrying a hamstring injury, Rekha understood the importance of her role in the team’s opening match against the reigning champions.
“I am really proud. Before the game started, I pulled my hamstring, and I was devastated, losing hope in myself that I wouldn’t be able to play. But my team had placed a lot of hope in me. I am proud of my team, even though we lost. We gave our best,” Rekha said.
Despite the loss, Rekha remains optimistic and believes that they gained valuable insights from their defeat that they can utilise in their final Group B match against Papua New Guinea next week.
Meanwhile, goals from Emma Pijnenburg and a second-half brace from Rebekah Trewhitt ensured the Kiwis open their title defense yesterday on a high note.
New Zealand dominated the game from the start. They had several chances to score, via Trewhitt and Manaia Elliott earlier but couldn’t convert their chances, until Pijnenburg’s goal in the 15th minute, shooting from outside the box and finding the top right corner of the net.
Fiji had to make an early substitution due to an injury, with Sonia Alfred being replaced by Narieta Leba. Despite New Zealand’s dominance, Fiji started to push forward and retain possession in the middle stages of the first half and had an opportunity to equalise in the 26th minute when Leba’s powerful shot was tipped onto the underside of the crossbar by NZ goalkeeper Aimee Feinberg-Danieli.
Into the second half, the Kiwis remained the stronger team, but Fiji’s goalkeeper made some significant saves as well. However, in the 65th minute, NZ doubled their lead when Waqali parried a free kick into the path of Trewhitt, who scored into the open net. Trewhitt secured her brace nine minutes later when she capitalised on a loose ball after a short-corner routine.
New Zealand will return to the field early to face Papua New Guinea on Saturday, June 25, in their final Group B match, while Fiji will have a break until Wednesday, June 28, when they will play against PNG.
In other matches, New Caledonia defeated Samoa 1-0 in the opening match of Group A, while Vanuatu proved too strong for Tonga with a 5-0 victory. In the lone match of Group C, Tahiti suffered a 0-1 defeat against Solomon Islands.
The tournament will culminate with the finals on July 8.