Papua New Guinea made a strong start to their OFC U-19 Championship campaign on Sunday as they outplayed a determined Tongan side to claim a 4-0 win in the opening game of the competition at Stade Pater.
But it took Tonga a little time to settle into the match as they adjusted to the pace of the competition, but they were soon able to surprise with an approach many hadn’t expected from the Qualifier winners.
At times sitting back and inviting the pressure from their opponents relying on the defensive structure they built up during the qualifying stage, Tonga were able to then counter using the speed of Tevita Kau and Talakaua Faiva’alo to their advantage.
Papua New Guinea, although dominant in possession, struggled to adjust to the Tongan’s solid approach to defending their goal mouth and it seemed like they may not be able to break them down.
The frustration crept in as Papua New Guinea picked up two cautions in the first 20 minutes before they started to settle and create chances for themselves. The best opportunities were created by Barthy Kerobin who really put Semisi Otukolo to the test with some quick-fire shots.
However the honour of the opening goal of the tournament fell to Jonathan Allen who latched onto the ball and fired it under Otukolo in the first minute of added time.
Kerobin finally got on the score sheet himself in the 66th minute when he broke the line to latch onto a through ball before calmly slotting past Otukolo.
Substitute Abraham Allen then made took Papua New Guinea’s lead to three in the 72nd minute before getting his brace in added time to complete the 4-0 victory for his side.
Papua New Guinea coach Harrison Kamake said although they never underestimated their opponent, they hadn’t expected the high pressing approach the first half of the match delivered.
“I would say we were a bit nervous during the first-half,” he said.
“The instruction was just to stick to the plan, carry out what we were supposed to do and we started to pick up in the second half.
“They were nervous and we had to fix that up in the second half.”
Tonga coach Soane Mailangi was happy with the overall performance from his side as they made the first step up to this level.
“Before we came up to this tournament we knew every game was going to be really tough because most of the teams in the top are hard for us to play,” Mailangi said.
“Today we compacted our defence, worked hard at the back and when we got the ball counter-attacked and tried to send long balls. We knew Papua New Guinea would be physical, quick but short and we tried to use that.
“The second half we still knocked at the door but they were maybe too fast in their combinations for us.”
In the late match the hosts Tahiti were unable to contain the might of defending champions New Zealand despite a strong showing, going down 2-1 in front of a vocal home crowd.
The OFC U-19 Championship moves to Stade Fautaua in Papeete, Tahiti tomorrow as Group B get their campaigns underway.