The opening day of the tournament would have been described as an action packed day, with each of the teams fighting very hard to score the opening goal in their matches.
Papua New Guinea and Fiji were the last two teams to take the field, kicking off with Fiji having alot of unsuccessful attempts in the first half.
Minutes into the first half saw Fiji’s Ravinesh Singh walked out of the field after jumping with Papua New Guinea goalkeeper Jacob Senat to meet a bouncing ball but caught his opponent in the face and was adjudged to have raised his foot dangerously high.
A certain goal came in the 17th minutes when Fiji Abbu Shaheed took his shot that went past PNG’s goalmouth and was flagged outside.
Papua New Guinea knew the Fijians were one of the teams to look up to and blocked off their opponents who would have been more prepared than them as the Fijian side struggle to make the opening goal. They stood firm and fought hard with their backline put up a strong defense, clearing every ball that come their way and made Fiji struggle to break through.
In return, PNG’s Brett Seriba curled a well-flighted free kick just over the bar from 25 yards in the 21st minute. They went close again five minutes later when Nigel Dabingyaba got on the end of a high cross and looped a header towards the target, forcing goalkeeper Akuila Mateisuva to shuffle backwards and tip it over the bar.
The Fiji goal appeared to lead a charmed existance in the 31st minute when Papua New Guinea striker Lap Embel got to a bouncing through ball and lobbed an effort over Mateisuva.
It appeared to be dropping into the net but instead struck the crossbar before bouncing on the line and hitting the right-hand post. Fiji were awarded a free kick in the ensuing goalmouth melee to relieve the pressure. Both sides made no difference on the scoreboard and remained nil all at half time
Amazingly, that wasn’t the best chance of the first period and Fiji really should have made light of their one-man disadvantage by going into the break 1-0 up. Indeed, Shaheed is unlikely to get a more straightforward chance to score than the one that presented itself at his feet in the 43rd minute.
Fellow forward Misaele Draunibaka broke down the left and squared for his strike partner to have what appeared to be the simplest of tap-ins. But goalkeeper Senat spread himself well and Shaheed could not find a way through.
There were less clear-cut chances in a tense second spell but Fiji’s Josua Tawake sparked excitement amongst the sizeable crowd in the 77th minute when his speculative effort from well outside the box sped narrowly past Senat’s post.
There was time for one more good chance as Fiji looked to break the deadlock, substitute Jone Salauneune finding room for himself in the box with some good skill but seeing his shot half-blocked and falling harmlessly wide.
Fiji coach Ravinesh Kumar was frustrated not to begin with a win but refused to blame the sending off for his side’s failure to take three points.
“We accept the referee’s decision because he is the main man on the field – if he thinks he’s right then you cannot argue with that,” he says.
The Fiji goal appeared to lead a charmed existence when striker Lap Embel got to a bouncing through ball and lobbed an effort over Mateisuva. It appeared to be dropping into the net but instead struck the crossbar before bouncing on the line and hitting the woodwork again, this time the right-hand post.
Fiji coach Ravinesh Kumar said they would have done better with 10 players to win the match but they will still still have to work on their discipline after Ravinesh Singh was awarded red card and sent off the field.
Papua New Guinea’s Head Coach, Max Foster was by far the more pleased of the two coaches, saying his side would have taken the lead if the ball hadn’t bounced off the bar.
“If Vanuatu can hold Fiji to a draw as well then we have a good chance of going through,”he said.
Even though the boys didn’t have enough time to climatize, they put up a good show for their small group of Papua New Guinean community who turned up to support by drawing to Fiji when the referee blew the final whistle.