Jayda Stewart’s second-half hat-trick illuminated the HFC Bank Stadium as Samoa beat New Caledonia 4-2 in an exciting OFC Women’s Nations Cup quarter-final in Suva, Fiji.
Despite a brace from Sarah Uregei, New Caledonia were outdone by Stewart’s brilliance, after Samoa captain Monique Fischer had earlier given her side the lead.
Four years ago, at the 2018 edition of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup, New Caledonia won this fixture 2-0 and looked the more threatening early on, peppering the Samoa goal from long-range.
Samoa’s work was however looking more clinical and Fischer saw her near-post shot saved by Lorenza Hnamano.
New Caledonia’s tactic of pushing higher up the pitch was clearly paying off in attack, two snapshots from the edge of the box keeping Samoa goalkeeper Ronisa Lipi busy, but they were soon caught out defensively.
Stewart found her attacking partner Torijan Lyne-Lewis through on goal and when Hnamano failed to hold her powerful strike Samoa captain Fischer tapped home the rebound.
However, Michel Berbeche’s players showed in their previous fixture with the Solomon Islands that they are more than capable of a comeback and their response was swift.
Jennifer Neporo, the hero against the Solomons, delivered a cross into the box which goalkeeper Lipi could only palm into the path of Uregei, who obliged with the equaliser just shy of half-time.
New Caledonia had an early chance to take the lead in the second period but Uregei could only fire her effort straight at Lipi and Samoa punished the missed opportunity immediately.
Lipi’s drop-kick clearance was flicked on in audacious fashion by player of the match Lyne-Lewis, unleashing Stewart one-on-one with Hnamano. The Samoa forward remained the coolest person in Suva, rounding the New Caledonia goalie before slotting home.
In Samoa’s opening game of the competition, a 2-0 win over Tonga, Stewart scored a candidate for goal of the tournament and she added another contender after 83 minutes.
The 20-year-old forward opened up space for herself 30-yards out from goal with a swift turn before hitting a dipping strike over Hnamano to extend Samoa’s lead.
New Caledonia were not willing to go down without a fight and Uregei smashed home a late half-volley in hope of setting up a tense finale.
However, Stewart would have the final say, when her smart touch and finish in stoppage time secured her treble and earned Samoa their first ever OFC Women’s Nations Cup semi-final.
Samoa will face the winner of this evening’s other quarter-final between Papua New Guinea and Tonga on July 27 while New Caledonia exit with their heads held high after a tough quarter-final battle.
Samoa head coach Paul Ifill:
“I actually don’t think it was our best performance to be honest. I am obviously pleased to be going through to the semi-final but I think we must be better.
“We let them back in the game late and made it more difficult than it probably should have been…
“In saying that I am really proud of the performance.”
New Caledonia head coach Michel Berbeche:
“It was a very good game with maybe a few errors here and there. The quality of this team is that they are young but unfortunately that can also be their weakness.
“But you will see them again next year.”
Samoa 4 (Monique FISCHER 35’, Jayda STEWART 52’, 83’, 90+5’)
New Caledonia 2 (Sarah UREGEI 43’, 90’)