Papua New Guinea – Vanuatu Match Summary click here
The result means Vanuatu go through to the semi-final stage as Group A winners while Papua New Guinea can pack their bags after being pipped to second place on goal difference by Fiji, who defeated American Samoa 5-1 to book their progression in a match that kicked off simultaneously to the Papua New Guinea-Vanuatu clash.
Knowing a draw would be enough to send them through, Papua New Guinea began well and had the better of the opening minutes. But Vanuatu have been one of the most impressive sides of the tournament so far and soon began to express their superiority.
The underdogs survived a dangerous moment in the 12th minute when Vanuatu striker Jean Kaltak lobbed a header over goalkeeper Jacob Senat and defender Matthew Bokari pulled off an acrobatic clearance underneath his crossbar.
But, in a big blow to Papua New Guinea’s hopes of keeping the scoreline tight, Senat was injured in that incident and was forced to leave the field. Replacement Soma Kairi did not have long to get into the game before he was picking the ball out of the net.
Just four minutes after Kairi’s 13th minute substitution, Kaltak broke down the left and unleashed a powerful shot inside the goalkeeper’s near post to put Vanuatu ahead.
It was 2-0 by the 25th minute, Octav Meltecoin swivelling in the box to force home the ball at close range following a well-worked Vanuatu corner. The game was effectively over as a contest seven minutes later when another break by Kaltak resulted in the ball finding its way to Pascal Chabot, whose effort took a deflection past the wrong-footed Kairi and into the net.
There was no further score before the half-time interval but Papua New Guinea were still left with a tough task to score at least three goals and earn the positive result they needed to progress.
Instead, it was Vanuatu who added further to their tally, scoring in the 56th and 67th minutes through Didier Kalip and Chabot, his second of the match, respectively.
Papua New Guinea did mount a comeback of sorts in the final 20 minutes, giving themselves a glimmer of hope in the 71st minute when Nigel Dabingyaba fired home after good play from Bruce Kusanan. The unlikely fightback nearly paid off when substitute Alwin Komolong rose well to head home a Max Sengum free kick but it was a classic case of too little, too late as Papua New Guinea were eliminated by Group A rivals Fiji by a goal difference of just one.
Papua New Guinea coach Max Foster is disappointed not to have achieved his pre-tournament goal of a semi-final spot.
“We made too many mistakes in the first half and that cost us the game,” he says. “Vanuatu had most of the chances and they made good use of them.”
Foster says his side’s time in Auckland has not been wasted though and feels his young charges will return to their homeland as better players.
“Competing in a tournament like this is a good experience for our boys and will serve them well by the time of the next competition,” he says.
Vanuatu coach Moise Poida is pleased to have seen his side continue their undefeated march to the semi-finals but says injuries to several players, particulalrly striker Jean Kaltak, has taken some of the gloss off the performance.
“Jean, his cousin Brian Kaltak and our captain Lucien Hinge have all picked up injuries but hopefully they will be okay for the semi-final,” he says.
Vanuatu have proven lethal in front of goal, scoring 14 goals in their three matches, and Poida is delighted to see the hard work put in on the training ground paying off. But, despite his side’s rearguard remaining unbreached until Papua New Guinea’s two goals today, he feels the defensive part of the game needs work.
“I am very happy with the performance of the attacking system but I think we have plenty of improvements to make defensively. We will have to put those right before the semi-final.”