The Papua New Guinea women’s football team has held onto their Pacific Games crown after a 3-1 victory over Samoa saw them earn their fifth consecutive gold medals at the competition, while New Zealand U-23s come from behind 2-1 win over New Caledonia saw them claim their first.
In the bronze medal matches, Fiji and Papua New Guinea went all the way to a penalty-shootout after drawing 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes. The Bula Boys going on to claim the victory and its bronze medal spoils with a score of 5-3. In the women’s play-off Fiji again claimed bronze after seeing off a spirited challenge from previous holders Cook Islands.
The final between Papua New Guinea and the hosts Samoa was always going to be a good one. The defending champions are considered the “Queens of the Pacific” in many circles thanks to their dominance in this competition and they had no intention of giving up their title to just anyone, even their hosts.
Samoa meanwhile had made history simply by making the final and confirming they would, for the first time, finish on the podium. But like their opponents, they were hungry for more and made that known from the moment they stepped on the pitch.
The teams kept each other scoreless for close to half-an-hour, with Samoa holding off some impressive attacking from Papua New Guinea before finally being broken down by the always impressive Marie Kaipu in the 28′.
Samoa has a rising talent of their own in the attacking stakes and after an impressive semi-final performance it came as little surprise when the equaliser for the home side came courtesy of Torijan Lyne-Lewis.
The Melanesian side weren’t going to let that stand for long however, and Kaipu struck once more in the 42nd minute to give her side a 2-1 lead going into the break.
In the second-half Samoa worked hard to find a way back into contention for the gold, but were kept at bay by a side experienced in stepping up to the challenge. Papua New Guinea wrapped up the victory in additional time courtesy of a Ramona Padio strike.
Papua New Guinea coach Frederica Sakette couldn’t contain her delight at having led her side to a victory she herself has now experienced as both player and coach.
“We all have so much passion for women’s football and today was a good feeling,” she said.
Samoa assistant coach Leti Tamasese meanwhile couldn’t be disappointed by her side’s performance saying they left everything on the field.
“It’s the first time Samoa has earned a medal, and a silver medal, at the Pacific Games. The result is testament to the continuing development of football as a sport in Samoa and excellent teamwork of the girls and its management.”
In the men’s final two unbeaten sides faced-off in an encounter which lived up to expectations.
New Caledonia, the most successful side in the competition’s history with seven titles, went into the final without conceding a goal, New Zealand had conceded just one.
And it was the Francophone side who took the lead in the 55th minute when Richard Sele made a decisive run down the left flank and hit a shot from the edge of the penalty area. New Zealand’s goalkeeper Conor Tracey got a hand on the shot but couldn’t prevent it finding the back of the net.
Despite being a goal down New Zealand didn’t drop their heads and instead rallied in the hope of finding at least an equaliser. They got back on level terms in the 86th minute when a Jorge Akers’ free-kick was headed home by stand-in captain Dane Schnell.
Five minutes of injury time were added and New Zealand took advantage of a tiring opponent by breaking down the right wing. Akers had a chance but it was denied by some superb goal-line defending.
From the resulting corner-kick, centre-back Billy Jones was on hand to deflect home with his shin, the goal coming so late in the piece their opponents had no chance to stage a comeback of their own.
“If you are going to win a final, that is a great way to do it, score twice in the final minutes and to win it the way we did. Full credit has to go to the players, it is a fantastic achievement,” New Zealand U-23 coach Des Buckingham said after the win.
“We hadn’t scored from set-piece all tournament so we were due and New Caledonia had not conceded a goal all campaign, so to put two past them was a fantastic achievement for this playing group.”
For New Caledonia coach Thierry Sardo, the loss coming so late in the piece was particularly devastating.
“Obviously when you’re winning 1-0 and controlling the match over 85 minutes to concede two goals in the last five minutes…it hurts a little,” Sardo said.
“But we’re not going home empty-handed, either.”
Gold: New Zealand U-23
Silver: New Caledonia
Gold: Papua New Guinea