Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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NZ beats Fiji, progresses to semis

Host nation and defending champions New Zealand beat Fiji 3-1 in their opening Group A match to progress to the semifinal of the OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier 2023 at Go Media Stadium in Auckland on Wednesday.

The Kiwis after their 3-0 forfeit win over Papua New Guinea and despite missing out on the services of a few key players due to overseas contracts, played with a lot of determination and sheer teamwork.

Attacking forward Aryan Raj, who is of Fijian heritage featured for New Zealand after his impressive performance for the side in the OFC under 16 and 19 competitions.

On the other hand, four New Zealand based players-goalkeeper Aydin Mustahib, Semi Nabenu, Mohammed Muzakkir-Nabeel and Brendan McMullen started for the Rob Sherman coached Junior Bula Boys.

Just three minutes into the match the Fijians struck through lanky Ba striker and Skipper Etonia Dogalau but his power-packed shot landed directly in the hands of New Zealand goalkeeper Scott Morris as rain began to pour in Beasley Avenue.

Soon after, New Zealand responded with a powerful strike from Luis Toomey however, the ball hit the crossbar just before Fijian goalkeeper Aydin Mustahib jumped in the air to tap it away.

In the 16th minute, New Zealand was awarded a free kick after Aporosa Yada fouled Liam Gillion which Jesse Randall took but he blasted the ball over the crossbar.

Two minutes later, New Zealand received another set-piece opportunity via a free-kick through which skipper Willem Ebbinge found Luis Toomey in the perfect position to open their account.

George Ott doubled the lead for the home side four minute later after he closely followed through a Zac Zoricich pass and placed the ball between the legs of Mustahib.

A few minutes later, the match official flashed a yellow card to Fiji’s Brendan McMullen for an intentional foul on New Zealand’s Nathan Lobo.

Things turned from bad to worse for the Fijians when Mohammed Raheem fouled Randall in the penalty box in the 25th minute and gave the opponents a further chance to increase their lead.

Randall got back on his feet and took the penalty which was saved by Mustahib, however the shot had to be retaken as the goalkeeper was off his line before the kick was taken.

The successful retake saw the Kiwis go up 3-0.

In injury time, Fiji tried to make a comeback when Yada and Thomas Dunn combined to set up Dogalau but he headed the ball away inches over the sticks.

After some stern prep talk at the break, Fiji  entered the pitch with renewed hopes and the urge to get back into the match.

New Zealand-based Mohammed Yunus Atiq took the field in an attacking ploy and made his debut in the process, replacing Josaia Sela in midfield.

It was hardworking Yada who gave the little Fijian crowd in the stands something to cheer about after pulling one back in the 49th minute with a cool finish off a Nabil Begg set-up.

Soon after, Begg was heavily tackled and replaced by Ba teammate Gulam Razool as precautionary measure.

Fiji showed a lot of promise in the last quarter of the match and kept their opponent in their own half with some good counter-attacking moves but were unsuccessful in finding more goals.

The Junior Bula Boys will play their all-important second Group match against PNG on Saturday.

The teams:

New Zealand: Scott Morris (GK), Nathan Lobo, Zac Zoricich, Isaac Hughes, Campbell Strong, Liam Gillion, Willem Ebbinge (C), Aaryan Raj, Jesse Randall, George Ott, Luis Toomey.

Subs: Alby Kelly-Heald, Joseph Knowles, Matthew Sheridan, Joe Lee, Keegan Kelly, Matt Ellis, Oskar Van Hattum, Adama Coulibaly, Ryan Verney, Dan Mcaky, Osacr Brownie.

Fiji: Aydin Mustahib (GK), Semi Nabenu, Brendan McMullen, Thomas Dunn, Aporosa Yada, Mohammed Muzakkir-Nabeel, Nabil Begg (Gulam Razool), Josaia Sela (Mohammed Yunus Atiq), Etonia Dogalau (C), Mohammed Fataul Raheem, Sterling Vasconcellos.

Subs: Jason Rokovucake, Isikeli Sevanaia Junior, Inoke Turagalailai, Eshan Kumar, Raj Pillay, Epeli Valevou, Peceli Sukabula, Sailasa Ratu, Sulianio Doli.

Romeka Romena
Romeka Romena
Journalist | news@fijilive.com

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