Coach Leon Birnie faces ‘tough decision’ ahead of Saturday’s final against Fiji

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New Zealand coach Leon Birnie says he faces a tough decision in naming a starting line-up for Saturday’s OFC U-19 Women’s Championship final against Fiji.

“There will be some disappointed players who won’t be starting, but we’ve done a lot of work around us as a squad; we’re one team and regardless of who’s starting, the whole squad will be what gets us through on the night,” he said in his pre-game interview.

Main photo: New Zealand’s Leon Birnie … ‘tough decisions.’ Photo: OFC / Kirk Corrie — Phototek.

Having met in their opening Group B encounter at the tournament, the sides meet again, this time with the title on the line following their respective semi-final victories over Samoa and Cook Islands.

The winners will also gain automatic qualification to the 2024 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

Seven-time champions New Zealand have been in hot form and are yet to concede a goal after four games at the tournament, while Fiji can expect strong support from a passionate home crowd.

How to watch the game

Birnie on Fiji: ‘They’re physical, fast and well-structured’

Birnie is acutely aware of the challenge that faces them when they come up against the hosts for a second time in a matter of weeks.

“Yeah, look, that was our toughest game by far at this competition, and we expect exactly the same.

“They’re a very physical, fast side, well-structured, and we’ve got to come out and make sure we put on a good performance if we want to come away with the win.”

Having rotated his starting XI considerably over the course of the tournament, Birnie will face the challenge of deciding who takes to the field on Saturday, with a number of players vying for spots in key positions.

“It’s a very tough decision as a coach.

“There’s been some really good performances across the competition, and now we’ve got to select eleven.”

Leon Birnie’s pre-game interview

Fiji coach Angeline Chua: ‘It’s nice to have tough opponents’

Fiji head coach Angeline Chua is positive ahead of the final.

“From the start, we know that every opponent will be tough.

“It’s nice to have tough opponents as then you can analyse your weaknesses and strengths and that’s how we’ll approach the game. We try to improve on our weaknesses but then also look at our strengths and make a game plan,” Chua said.

With the biggest challenge still to come for the hosts, sticking to what they know will be key for Chua and her players.

“For us, routine is very important. Usually, after a game, we have a recovery session with the first XI and then we also do training for what we call our game changers. Every game-changer that comes in makes a difference, so everything around the team is highly motivated,” she said.

Angeline Chua’s pre-game interview

Prior to the final (which starts at 7pm NZT), Samoa and Cook Islands will play for third place.

That match starts at 1pm, having being brought forward from its original kick off time of 3pm.

Acknowledgement: This report supplied by OFC Media.

New Zealand captain Manaia Elliott’s pre-game interview

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Games to be played on Saturday July 8, 2023

Play-off for third place

Samoa v Cook Islands
HFC Stadium, Suva, 1pm (NZT)


New Zealand v Fiji
HFC Stadium, Suva, 7pm (NZT)

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