Asian Confederation representative India scored twice in the final twenty minutes to break down Tahiti’s dogged resistance and create history by capturing the inaugural OFC Youth Development Tournament title at Port Vila’s Korman Stadium.
Earlier, UEFA member Estonia edged past New Caledonia in another inter- Confederation match-up to snatch 3rd place, while hosts Vanuatu grabbed fifth place courtesy of a penalty shootout win over Melanesian rivals Papua New Guinea.
Final – Tahiti 0-2 India India looked sharp from the outset pressing high and controlling possession with their quick and accurate passing game inside Tahiti’s half.
Vikram Partap was particularly impressive both on the wing and inside the box as the Indians have set up camp in front of their opponents’ goal reducing Tahiti’s options to a few counter attacking attempts.
Floyd Pinto’s men should have taken the lead at the half-hour mark when Partap found himself in a clear goal scoring position before failing to control an excellent Sumit Rathi cross and the ball bounced off his knee and above Tahiti keeper Anapa Debruyne’s crossbar. Less than five minutes later India created an even better chance with Partap sending in a pinpoint cross from the right towards Aman Chetri who narrowly missed the target from close range.
Despite the onslaught the Tahitians have kept their composure and shape to absorb pressure and frustrate India, holding them to a scoreless stalemate at the end of the first half.
With India struggling to open up Tahiti’s well organised defence and the game opening up, Vatea Teraii’s young players have sensed their opportunity on the counter.
Against the run of play, the lively Paofai Teriitemataua forced a good save from Prabhsukhan Singh, before finding space on the right with a strong run and sending in an inviting cross which sailed across the Indian goalmouth.
At the other end Gurkirat Singh headed narrowly above the crossbar from a freekick delivered by Givson Singh as India looked to be running out of luck and options.
In the 71st minute however, Indian eyes were smiling thanks to Manvir Singh who just came off the bench to find the net with a clinical header at the end of a determined run and cross by Gurkirat Singh from the left.
After settling their nerves Partap put the result beyond any doubt in the 88th minute,heading past Debruyne from close range to finish a move once again started by the impressive Gurkirat Singh.
Deep into injury time, Thoiba Singh forced a save from Debruyne with a curling shot from the edge of the box, before the Tahiti keeper denying Gurkirat Singh whose left-footed freekick proved to be the last noteworthy event of the absorbing title decider.
3rd Place Play-Off – Estonia 1-0 New Caledonia Estonia broke Les Cagous’ hearts by scoring in the dying minutes, deep into injury time to claim third spot in the day’s other inter-Confederation encounter.
The Europeans threatened first with a dangerous freekick from Aleksander Iljin, before Lues Waya came close at the other when he just failed to connect cleanly with the incoming cross from Alan Hnaweo.
Estonia kept pressing high with Daniel Fedotov and Kristo Hussar both putting pressure on New Caledonia keeper Gaizka Ipeze while Kirwin Katrawa led Les Cagous’ frontline on the counter as an arm-wrestle developed.
We had to wait until the 36th minute for the first real goal-scoring opportunity with Fedotov hitting the post from close range before Hussar narrowly missing the target from the rebound.
In the final minute of the first half Hussar set up Arthur Jersov whose shot from the edge of the box was blocked to ensure the two sides went into the break on level terms.
Estonia came close to taking the lead in the 54th minute with Iljin beating two defenders before blasting high above the crossbar from close range.
Georg-Marten Meumers wasted another good chance following a defensive mix-up between Ipeze and Rayan Oue, but the Estonia forward could only hit the side-net from an acute angle after rounding up the New Caledonia keeper.
With time running out and the game heading towards a penalty shoot-out, Estonia suffered a set-back by going down to 10-men after their skipper Ralf-Sander Suvinomm received his marching order.
There was however a late twist in the fifth minute of injury time, with Joonas Luts scoring the winner for the Europenas, courtesy of a cracking freekick which proved to be the last action of the match.
5th Plac e Play-Off – Pap ua New Guinea 0-0
Vanuatu (PNG 2-3 VAN on penalties) Vanuatu gave home fans something to smile about by avoiding the wooden spoon following a thrilling penalty shoot-out win over Melanesian rivals Papua New Guinea. Playing for pride, Vanuatu started brightly, holding both ball and territorial possession during the early exchanges without causing too much headaches for their Pacific rivals.
With both sides keen to finish the tournament on a high note, Papua New Guinea responded with probing attacks through the dangerous Morris Devi, who was the first to create a chance with a brilliant run before the first of many crucial blocks by the impressive Nicholas Kings at the centre of Vanuatu’s defence.
Joseph Ealedona came the closest to open the scoring in the first half when his volley from close range shaved the crossbar of Vanuatu’s goalkeeper captain James Chilia.
With both sides struggling in the final third, the only meaningful goalscoring chance came midway through the second period when Jonah Abel hit the post from a pinpoint cross by Pietro Takaro before the rebound off the post fell for Julian Banga, who flashed wide of the PNG post.
In the final minutes of the match Jason Wadunah hit the post at the other end with a brilliant free-kick as the likelihood of a penalty shootout was looking increasingly likely.
The hosts suffered a scare at the end of regulation time following a red card for Armando Ravo, while Papua New Guinea replaced their keeper Andrew Baniau with Adrian Redenut.
Chilia produced a save to deny Joku while Jayson Bule drove his shot straight at Redenut to open the penalty shoot-out duel.
Joseph Waiwai and Junior Okao both converted before Chilia gave the advantage to Vanuatu with another save, this time from Renagi Ila.
Froncois Atel made no mistake before Chilia stamped his authority on the shoot-out by keeping out Joshua Urro. Julian Banga blasted his shot over the bar to give PNG a last chance, which skipper Butler Hosea took advantage of to level the scores 2-all with one last kick remaining. The responsibility of winning the match for Vanuatu fell on the shoulders of Pietro Takaro who made no mistake from spot to the delight of his home fans.