Port Moresby: The teams and officials for the 2004 OFC Under 19 Women’s Qualifying Tournament arrived yesterday in Port Moresby to a warm welcome, provided by the Papua New Guinea Football Association local organising committee.
On arrival at Jackson International Airport, the visiting teams and officials were given a VIP status welcome, greeted with fresh smelling flower-necklaces while being serenaded outside the terminal by a cultural group hailing from one of the distinctive local communities in the PNG capital.
The cultural group formed a guard of honour and performed traditional dance items as the teams and officials made their way to their transportation. The graceful melodies sung by the group were the perfect platform to launch the tournament, which is the first OFC tournament to be held in Papua New Guinea since the 2001 OFC Club Championship.
“It was a wonderful welcome provided by the PNGFA and has set the tone for the running of this tournament,” remarked OFC Match Commissioner, George Dick, from Australia.
“All the arrangements so far have been impeccable and I’m sure this event will be a success.”
Last night following the tournament technical meeting, the teams and officials were treated to a cocktail function hosted by the PNGFA at the Holiday Inn Hotel poolside bar. It was an opportunity for the visitors to mingle with local officials and representatives of tournament sponsors, the media and supporting local, regional and national bodies.
PNGFA president, Madiu Andrew, in his keynote address acknowledged the support for this tournament from the local community and the presence of dignitaries, officials and the players themselves. He wished all the teams well for the tournament and encouraged fair play to be observed throughout.
With the welcoming formalities now out of the way, today sees to the opening match to be played between the host nation and the Solomon Islands.
On paper, the local team has the experience and the higher ranking in women’s football, but for coach John Davani and his charges, they are not at all overconfident and are treading with caution as they approach this historic match which will see Solomon Islands make their official women’s soccer international debut.
“From what we have been told, the Solomon Islands have been together in camp for a while now and they are fit but other than that, we have little knowledge of their players,” said Davani.
“We will certainly not underestimate them and can expect a typical hard-fought match between two Melanesian nations”
Both teams have selected squads with a view to developing the best players towards the next senior Women’s World Cup qualifiers. While the Solomon Islands players lack the international experience, PNG can boast just one player, Neileen Limbai who represented her country at the OFC Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
According to Solomons coach Rex Masuaka, he says the team will be judged on their progress throughout the tournament on a personal level rather than the final scoreline.
“If we improve as a team and individually as players from a technical and tactical point of view, I will be happy,” he said.
“They are playing against other ladies with superior experience and who are physically bigger so it is as much a challenge mentally for us.”
Watching in the Lloyd Robson Oval grandstand will be the Australian `Young Matildas’ who play their first game against the Solomon Islands on Thursday, 22 April at 3:00pm. The team, led by coach, Adrian Santric have come here to win and are taking their mission seriously as was pointed out at the press conference held on their arrival at Jackson Airport.
“I am very excited about this group of players we have brought here and expect many of them to develop into future senior representatives,” he said.
The playing pitch was checked by the OFC delegation yesterday and passed with flying colours. Mr George Dick praised the ground staff at Lloyd Robson Oval on the work they had put into the match venue.
The final match of the tournament will be this Saturday, 24 April at 3:00pm between the host nation and Australia.
* All results and updates can be found by visiting the Papua New Guinea FA website which is linked to the OFC website at www.oceaniafootball.com . Just click on the red and yellow coloured PNGFA logo link located just under the masthead of the OFC website on the homepage.