All four Group A teams had to make do with a share of the points after Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu drew 3-3, before a late strike saw New Caledonia snatch a 1-1 draw with hosts Tahiti at the OFC U-17 Championship.
In the day’s opening encounter, the early pressure came predominantly from Papua New Guinea’s end as they got their Group A match against Vanuatu underway this evening.
After both registered opening losses the emphasis for the two Melanesian nations was a victory and points on the board.
Aben Pukue was the hero for his side when he opened the scoring in the 16th minute that had keeper Joshua Willie beaten.
It wasn’t just a decisive moment for Papua New Guinea as they took the lead, but for their opponents too who lost their first-choice keeper to an injury.
Aben Pukue and Barthy Kerobin wasted no time in giving replacement Dgen Leo a hard time between the sticks with a series of shots that would have had the keeper thankful he warmed up well.
At the other end of the park Abert Vanva joined Dilland Ngwele and Jean-Claude Batick in peppering the Papua New Guinea goal with shots.
They were rewarded for their hustle in the 25th minute when some mis-communication in the goalmouth saw Ngwele register a goal for his side with a toe-poke.
With just a few seconds of additional time remaining ahead of the half-time whistle Papua New Guinea were handed the gift of a penalty.
Converted by Barthy Kerobin, Papua New Guinea had the luxury of a one goal lead coming back for the second half. They may have rested to comfortably on their laurels however as Abert Vanva took advantage of a fumble from the keeper to pull Vanuatu back in line.
For the third time Vanuatu slipped ahead in the 81st minute thanks to Barthy Kerobin who put the finishing touch on a deflected ball. Celebrations were short-lived however as two minutes later Zidane Maguekon’s free kick slipped through Graham Berigami’s hands.
Sharing the points after having had the lead three times during the evening made for a hugely disappointing finish to the afternoon for Harrison Kamake.
“I’m very disappointed because I think it was just a few individual decisions that gave us the result we weren’t really after,” the Papua New Guinea coach said.
“I have to commend my side for the team effort. I was impressed with the ability to switch between the attacking and defending.”
For his counterpart Rocky Neveserveth it was two evenly matched sides which was reflected in the score.
“Papua New Guinea prepared for this match and we also prepared a long time for this match.”
Being able to keep his side motivated in spite of having to come from behind three times was a challenge but one Nerveserveth said his team dealt with well.
“The best part of the game for me was when our young guys scored goals. We spoke a lot about this match and we told them to press, press hard and try and score goals.
“I also told them to focus, keep your heads in the game and remain motivated for the full match. With that approach we were able to get the draw.”