Callan Elliot [left, kneeling] celebrating winning the Oceania U-19 Championship with the New Zealand squad. PHOTO/OFC VIA PHOTOTEK
Wairarapa’s Callan Elliot has tasted international success as part of the New Zealand side who won the Oceania Under-19 Championship on Sunday [NZT] for the seventh time.
They were made to work but came away with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over tournament hosts Tahiti in the final at Stade Pater in Pirae.
The defining moment came shortly after halftime when Matthew Conroy used his speed to take the ball to the by-line on a counter-attack and cut back well for Trevor Zwetsloot to hit a powerful shot past Tahitian keeper Moana Pito.
The strike by the 18-year-old from Germany’s Werder Bremen club proved decisive in the final.
It was a pivotal period in the match as moments earlier, Tahitian captain Roonui Tehau hit a goal-bound freekick which was superbly tipped over the bar by New Zealand custodian Cameron Brown.
Both teams had already qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland next year with the top two teams advancing, but the main prize of the OFC U-19 title was up for grabs with Tahiti looking to win the title for the third time at home.
But it was New Zealand, under coach Des Buckingham, who continued their superb record in the OFC U-19 Championship.
The defending champions showed great resilience and character to scoop their seventh title and their fifth of the past six tournaments.
Buckingham was delighted with the team’s performance throughout the tournament as they went through undefeated, scored 23 goals and only conceded two.
“It was a very tough game and you can see the work that Tahiti have put in over the past year,” Buckingham said.
“It really shows on the pitch and they are very hard to break down.
“We had four days in a camp before we came here so for the players to adapt the way that they have in a short space of time is really pleasing.
“For both New Zealand and Tahiti to go and represent Oceania at the World Cup next year is a great achievement for both.”
Captain Joe Bell, who again led by example with a commanding performance in the midfield, said it was hugely satisfying to win the championship and also book their place in the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“I am really happy with how the team performed,” he said.
“The boys put in a great shift in that game.
“It was very hard and there have been some very talented teams over here.
“I am very proud to be able to lead them through this.
“We came here to qualify but we also wanted to win the tournament.
“Our focus is now on next year’s World Cup which is going to be very tough, but we have a good coaching staff and we will be well prepared for whatever we are going to face.”
— NZ Football