Tahiti have claimed a historic Oceania title – the first Pacific Islands nation to do so – earning passage to the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 in the process. The Tahitians struck early in Honiara through forward Steevy Chong Hue and survived a second-half onslaught from Francophone rivals New Caledonia to earn a long-awaited continental crown.
Tahiti had appeared in three previous finals - 1973, 1980 and 1996 – but finally took top spot with their opponents featuring in a maiden OFC Nations Cup decider, having been affiliated to FIFA only in 2004. The victory concluded a five-match winning run in the eight-nation competition, with Tahiti now set to become the first nation other than Australia or New Zealand to represent Oceania at the global tournament.
New Zealand claimed third place with a 4-3 win in the earlier match against hometown favourites Solomon Islands. All four semi-finalists will feature in the third and final stage of Oceania 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying which is due to commence later this year.
The pivotal moment of the final came after just ten minutes as Jonathan Tehau flicked on younger brother Lorenzo Tehau's cross to Steevy Chong Hue, who had time to chest the ball down and drill his shot into the bottom corner.
New Caledonia took time to adjust to the early set-back but slowly forced their way back into contention as the match wore on. However, the best chance of the opening half arrived just before the interval as Tahiti’s Alvin Tehau's shot was well saved by Rocky Nyikeine, who then thwarted a follow-up effort, before defender Emile Bearune saved the day for New Caledonia with another crucial block.
Lorenzo Tehau had the ball in the net soon after the break, only to be denied by the offside flag, before New Caledonia ramped up their fightback.* Les Cagous* did everything but score against their French-speaking rivals during an intense spell midway through the second half.
Bertrand Kai started the momentum, creating a good opening only to slip at the crucial moment, before setting up Jacques Haeko, who fired over a few minutes later. George Gope-Fenepej shot fiercely into the side netting and then spurned a gilt-edged opening at the far post following Haeko’s cross.
However, it was be Tahiti that prevailed in a match of missed opportunities to claim their maiden Oceania crown, following eight previous attempts over the 39-year history of the tournament.
*Kiwi consolation *New Zealand secured a measure of solace by seeing off local heroes Solomon Islands with a thrilling 4-3 win. The All Whites fell to a surprise 2-0 defeat against New Caledonia on Friday but immediately sought to overcome that disappointment with a storming opening.
New Zealand’s Chris Wood bagged a hat-trick inside the opening half-hour, only for Solomon Islands to stage a remarkable comeback as the midday heat took its toll. To the delight of a typically animated Lawson Tama Stadium crowd, the Solomons drew level with three minutes remaining as Bonitos talisman Benjamin Totori found the net with three minutes remaining, adding to Himson Teleda’s strike. However, New Zealand’s prolific striker Shane Smeltz found space in the penalty area two minutes into injury time to deny the Solomons.