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Pacific Games rematch could decide a semi-finalist

All eyes will be on the rematch of the 2011 and 2015 Pacific Games final which has seen Papua New Guinea twice edge their opponents New Caledonia for the gold medal.

The final which hurt the most was the 2011 edition which was played in New Caledonia, and while the bid for revenge in 2015 was unsuccessful, captain Celine Xolawawa remains optimistic about her side’s chances this time around.

“In 2015, we hoped to get our revenge because the loss on home soil was tough. But to lose twice in a row was particularly difficult. On top of that, in 2011 we beat them in the pool play, but lost in the final! 2-0 in the group, then a 1-0 loss in the final. It’s still right there in the memory bank,” Xolawawa recalled.

“We know it’s a team which is incredibly aggressive, tall, strong, so we will take some hits I’m sure and the girls will have to remain calm, and we can’t be scared of any contact.

“It’s going to be an important match and they won’t give anything up and we can’t either.”

For Xolawawa, who was part of both of those unsuccessful campaigns, the opportunity to change the course of history is there for the taking.

“I’m sure the girls, both the old and the new, don’t want a repeat of what we experienced in 2011 and 2015, we can’t have any regrets so I think we’ll give everything.

“This is the match we can’t lose.”

The cohesive performance from the injured captain’s teammates against Tahiti certainly helps put her mind at ease, but New Caledonia will need to be a little sharper for much longer periods if they want to contain the pace and unpredictability of their Melanesian opponents.

The Cagoues almost paid the price for some lax moments in defence as Tahiti narrowed a 3-0 lead to just 3-2, and came within an inch of scoring the equaliser before New Caledonia were able to bury the encounter.

The lapse in concentration is something coach Kamali Fitialeata won’t want to see them repeat against a side which will most certainly punish them.

“I watched them play some of their first match and I got the impression that they didn’t show their hand,” he said.

“I think perhaps it wasn’t their best starters and they may have held some back for this second match against us. “But we’ll prepare well for them.”

Peter Gunemba, coach of Papua New Guinea, holds New Caledonia in equally high esteem and believes it’s going to be one of the toughest challenges of the group against their hosts.

“The two most important games are our next two and in terms of New Caledonia, I believe they are a better team,” he said.

“In the 2015 Pacific Games I was there watching and New Caledonia was a very good football team and I expect them to repeat the same here.

“They will want to take revenge because we beat them one-nil in that game, and they will want to beat us, especially at home.”

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