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PNG secure play-off with New Zealand

Vanuatu also have much to celebrate after securing the country’s first ever win in women’s football with a triumph by the same scoreline over Samoa in the 3rd/4th play-off.

Pacific Games champions and 2010 OFC Women’s Nations Cup runners-up Papua New Guinea were favourites going into the tournament and have justified that reputation with a string of accomplished performances throughout the week, topping it off today to take the title against a determined Tonga outfit.

A good crowd turned out to cheer on the home side but they had little to be rowdy about in the opening minutes as Papua New Guinea immediately took control and began mounting a series of attacks. Tonga defended doggedly though and Papua New Guinea could not make their dominance count on the scoreboard, even passing up a golden opportunity to score from the penalty spot. With the ball clearly about to cross the Tongan line after goalkeeper Lupe Likiliki – who otherwise put in an outstanding performance – failed to gather a free kick in the 41st minute, defender Salome Va’enuku instinctively stuck out a hand to prevent it doing so and left Fijian referee Finau Vulivuli with no choice but to brandish a red card. The spot kick was taken by Papua New Guinea’s inspirational captain Deslyne Siniu and she struck it well but was denied by a brilliant one-handed save from Likiliki.

Despite keeping the scores level at the break, Tonga were always going to find the going tough with only 10 players and the match was all but won in the opening stages of the second half. Papua New Guinea struck twice in two minutes, through Fatima Rama and Barbra Muta in the 47th and 49th minutes respectively, to crush Tonga’s dreams of making London and set up the two-legged tie with New Zealand’s Football Ferns. “I am happy to have won but we have a lot to work on,” coach Steven Mune said. “We now have to play New Zealand and they are a very good side so it’s not going to be easy.

They will really come at us so we have to make sure we are ready. We will have to work on our defence particularly because New Zealand are likely to attack us time and time again.” Tonga coach Lui Muavesi felt the sending off made the task even tougher for his side but admitted the winners are deserving of their place in the play-off. “When you go a player down it is always hard and I think it took us about 10 minutes to get our heads around it,” he said. “I knew the game today would be very difficult and we just told our girls to play as hard as they could. We really wanted to win but Papua New Guinea were better on the day and made good use of having the extra player. They have shown their class as the No 1 Pacific Island team.

” It was a similar story earlier in the day as Vanuatu emerged deserving winners in the 3rd/4th play-off, making a piece of history in the process. Samoa defeated Vanuatu 4-3 in a thrilling encounter on the second day of action but the victors’ match-winner on that occasion, talented young striker Hazel Peleti, was injured in the process of scoring in the next game against Tonga and had to sit this afternoon out. Peleti, 17, struck a hat-trick in that earlier success and her presence was greatly missed today by Samoa, who put in a determined effort but struggled to tuck away the chances they created.

Vanuatu also squandered their fair share of opportunities but were the more dominant attacking force and found the net more than enough to earn third spot. Both nations have seen little international action in recent years and both coaches spoke of the importance of finishing the tournament with a win in the build-up to the match. The motivational words of Vanuatu boss Florian Sam had clearly had the desired effect on his charges though as they started brightly and put themselves 2-0 up by the half-time whistle. Captain Elodie Samuel led by example to give her country the lead, cutting onto her right foot inside the box and smashing home past Samoa goalkeeper Marielene Papalii in the 20th minute. The advantage was extended just four minutes later, Leisale Solomon finishing off an attack from close range to leave Samoa with a steep hill to climb. But without Peleti they could not muster much offensively and Vanuatu saw out the second period without too many scares to record their first ever win and highest placing at an international tournament.

“I think the federation and everyone back home will be proud we could end with a win,” Vanuatu coach Florian Sam said. “We have made the most of this experience and will now look at improving our weaknesses.” The Samoan camp has been hit hard by injuries and coach Tala Salamasina cited that as a contributing factor to the loss. “We were missing players in some key positions and just couldn’t find the goal we needed to lift the team,” he said. “But overall I’m happy with how our young team performed.

Nearly half of them will go to the OFC U-20 competition in New Zealand in a couple of months so this has been very good for us in terms of preparation.” In the individual stakes, Papua New Guinea midfielder Siniu was named Player of the Tournament while Tonga captain and custodian Likiliki received the Golden Gloves as the best goalkeeper on show. Tonga striker Piuingi Feke was also awarded the Golden Boot for topping the scoring charts with her seven strikes. Vanuatu were the recipients of the Fair Play Award.