Papua New Guinea kept its FIFA Women’s World Cup hopes alive today after grinding out a hard-fought 1-0 win over a brave Tonga thanks to an own goal. Tongan defender Mele Vaisioa Mahe Niukapu turned the ball into her own net after a rasping 15 yard drive from Cathy Agunam hit the post and ricocheted cruelly off Niukapu’s legs and into an empty net.
It was a sad blow for Tonga who matched the host nation all the way missing several gilt-edged chances throughout an enthralling ninety minutes. Papua New Guinea will be relieved to have sealed another three points after missing several good chances to score with Deslyn Siniu hitting the crossbar with a powerful looping header from a Miriam Lanta cross within the opening minutes of the match.
Tonga’s best chances came from quick passes up to strikers Vasi Feke and Penateti Feke who were able to outpace Papua New Guinea’s defenders under pressure with their direct running. After 20 minutes Tonga could have taken a shock 1-0 lead when Penateti Feke latched onto a Salome Sela Vaenuku cross but shot wide with only Roxanne Komeng to beat.
The home crowd’s anxiety became more apparent as the match went on with Likiliki denying Agunam, Siniu and Lanta in one-on-one situations. Including a Siniu shot from inside the penalty area that Likiliki deflected to safety with her shoulder. Such were the quality of Likiliki’s performance that each save drew forth appreciation from Papua New Guinean fans who chanted “Keeper! Keeper!” with every save she made.
Papua New Guinea did their best to break down the solid Tongan rearguard with Daisy Winas providing Siniu and Agunam with plenty of ammunition but the pair were unable to convert any of the chances afforded them.
Tonga missed their best chance of the second-half when a Penateti Feke corner was missed by Roxanne Komeng and hit Vasi Feke awkwardly inside the six yard box before hacked clear to safety. Papua New Guinea then broke Tongan hearts in the 63rd minute when Cathy Agunam broke forward into Tonga’s penalty area and crashed a vicious shot against the post with the rebound hitting Niukapu in the legs and flying into the corner of the net.
Tonga were visibly deflated by the lost goal and Papua New Guinea looked to have sealed the win until Penateti Feke shot over the bar in the final minute of the match.
Tonga coach Kilifi Uele was disappointed to lose the match but said the overall performance had been good and he was satisfied the team was improving.
“We have lost another game but we have played better today and I think we can play better against Solomon Islands. We want to win one game before we go home. We matched Papua New Guinea by our strength and physical game but we missed some good chances to score.”
Goalkeeper Mele Teukialupe Likiliki said it was strange to lose a second game despite seeing the team performance improve.
“We were in the game until the own goal and had good chances to score but we missed them. But I think we played very well and I am confident we can win the next game before we head back home. Papua New Guinea supporters have been very kind to us and we wish their team well in their last game.”
Papua New Guinea assistant coach Bob Morris was happy with the result that gives Papua New Guinea its best ever placing at an OFC Women’s tournament.
“We were guilty of missing many chances and this made the game harder for us. Tonga is a very physical team and strong players and this was the only problem for our team. But we have the win now and it comes down to the final match against New Zealand.”
Midfielder Daisy Winas said the team was relieved to win the match and was also pleased with her own form.
“I am happy with how I am playing but we will need to be better against New Zealand in the last game.”
TONGA: Mele Teukialupe LIKILIKI, Emelita MOALA, Kulia FILO, Atelaite MANU, Salome Sela VAENUKU, Neomi Loto Tonunga TUPOU, Penateti Lapiuingi FEKE, Vasi FEKE, Matelita Lotomo’ua Ki MISINALE (Lupe TAUFAHEMA 90), Sala VEAMATAHAU (Karen Marie UTAATU 90), Mele Vaisioa Mahe NIUKAPU.
SUBSTITUTES NOT USED: Nasaleti Fiefa KALAVI, Kaati Fetokai MALUA, Lata’is’a TUIFUTUNA, Lose Pongilau PELE, Seini MALUNGAHU, Pesi Talamonu NAPA’A.
YELLOW CARDS: None.
RED CARDS: None.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Roxanne KOMENG, Kathryn SALAIAU, Regina SUI (Judith MICHAEL 46), Jacqueline CHALAU, Tracey KIG (Cecilia DOBBIN 46), Daisy WINAS, Deslyn SINIU, Miriam LANTA, Ara MIDI (Cathy AGUNAM 36), Lydia BARNABAS, Antonia SURAKE.
SUBSTITUTES NOT USED: Watio BAKO, Julie ALAU, Molong KUSUNAN, Paulyn NORMAN, Samantha PENINSA, Marion Linda BUNAGA.
GOALS: Mele Vaisioa Mahe NIUKAPU (TON) 63 – own goal.
YELLOW CARDS: None.
RED CARDS: None.
REFEREE: Lencie FRED (VAN)
ASSISTANT REFEREE 1: Hamilton SIAU (SOL)
ASSISTANT REFEREE 2: Jackson NAMO (SOL)
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Amelia MORRIS (AUS)
REFEREE INSPECTOR: Neil POLOSSO (SOL)