The Vodafone Fiji national under 19 Women’s finishing second in the OFC Championship was a small reward in what had been an emotionally testing tournament in their debut.
The Saroj Kumar coached side defeated New Caledonia 2-1 in their last match on Monday to scooped the runner-up award while New Zealand won the championship and qualified for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
The team dedicated their win to goalkeeper the late Francine Lockington who passed away last Saturday in Lautoka.
“It has been a heart-touching tournament for us,” coach Saroj Kumar said.
“Losing our goalkeeper and then coming here and winning silver – it’s wonderful for us.
“It was a tough game today (Monday), they played their cards well but the girls were really focused on winning and we tried to press them high when we had the wind.
“We studied New Caledonia’s game and we tried to press them, force them to make mistakes and then get goals.”
Fiji had the best chances in the first half with the wind at their backs, testing keeper Karine Xozame’s aerial judgement as well as the offside trap.
New Caledonia had a couple of their own opportunities but were unable to get close enough to really test Fijian goalkeeper Ateca Tuwa who had an excellent command of the penalty area, plus a solid line of defence in front of her.
A foul on striker Cema Nasau saw Fiji pick up a free kick just off the top of the penalty area which captain Luisa Tamanitoakula lined up. Struck perfectly, with a little assistance from the cross-field breeze, the ball floated into the top corner to open the scoring.
The second came three minutes later as Tamanitoakula went in at goal with just Xozame to beat, playing it outside the keeper but inside the upright to give her side a two goal lead at the break.
With the wind on their side for the second half, New Caledonia made the most of it their chances and it paid off in the 55th minute.
Alice Wenessia curled a corner in from the left, dropping it right in front of the goal mouth where a waiting Isabelle Hnaweongo headed home.
The goal revitalised New Caledonia who were able to up the pressure on their opponents, however despite their best efforts were unable to pull themselves in line with Fiji to finish on a high.
New Caledonia coach Kamali Fitialeata said to end with a defeat is a tough way to close out the tournament.
“The first half we didn’t play too well, we let them dominate us and the two goals they scored hurt us,” he said.
“But the girls tried to come back, they fought with everything they had today but it wasn’t enough, so congratulations to Fiji.”
Fiji finished the championship with ten points in which they defeated Tonga 4-0. Loss 1-9 to New Zealand, drew 2-2 against Samoa, defeated Papua New Guinea 3-2 and New Caledonia 2-1.
Champions New Zealand picked up the Fairplay Award, going five matches without a single caution, and in the individual awards, an impressive display from Emma Main saw her skip past her teammates Samantha Tawharu and Hannah Blake to take home the Golden Boot award for her 11 goals in five games.
As well as taking home their silver medals, Fiji also scooped a couple of individual awards of their own.
Goalkeeper Ateca Tuwa took home the Golden Glove, while captain Luisa Tamanitoakula earned the Golden Ball for player of the tournament.