Papua New Guinea U-17 went into this tournament with one purpose and that was to be competitive and they’ve shown that throughout the whole tournament.
Defending champions New Zealand up 1-0 in the third minute after Papua New Guinea’s Aben Pukue tried to clear a cross but found the back of his own net.
Papua New Guinea soon scored again, this time past Zac Jones, when Barthy Kerobin volleyed a deflection into the net, ending the first half with the score tied 1-1.
The second half saw both teams fight neck-and-neck in the middle of the park, taking turns at pressuring their opponent’s goal but failing to break the backlines. Charles Spragg stood out up front for the Kiwis with several on-target attempts but Graham Berigami’s quick hands blocked every one of Spragg’s chances and kept the Papua New Guinean’s in the game.
Oliver Whyte made his heroic move when he charged into the penalty box and, in full stretch, reached a toe to the ball and sent it into the bottom right corner in the third minute of extra time to send his nation to the final, and to the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay felt very lucky to walk away with the win against a very talented and passionate Papua New Guinea side.
“It was a really difficult encounter which we knew it was going to be. We had chances that we probably should have put away a lot earlier. Their keeper pulled out some incredible saves so you’ve got to Papua New Guinea, they really fought well and showed a lot of pride and a lot of spirit in fighting for their country,” he said.
“We’re very pleased that they (New Zealand) showed so much character and fight to actually see it through. It’s very difficult out here in these sorts of conditions and humidity and heat so very pleased that they’ve actually got the job done.”
With his initial goal of the competition achieved, Hay is now looking forward to giving one last fighting performance in the OFC U-17 Championship final before he turns his focus to preparation for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.
“That was the number one goal, qualifying for the World Cup. We’ve now got a final to play so that’s going to be straight into the boys’ minds.”
Despite their last minute loss to New Zealand ending their World Cup dream, Papua New Guinea coach Harrison Kamake was stunned by their performance and proud of the relentless effort put it by his young side.
“It was really amazing. The boys really went up to the challenge. It’s a bit disappointing that they scored in the additional time, it was a heart-breaker for the boys,” he said.
“I have been really impressed by the boys and their mentality towards the tournament. Our one purpose was to be competitive and we’ve all seen how competitive our boys have been throughout the whole tournament.”