Papua New Guinea midfielder Michael Foster says a newfound belief is a big part of the Kapuls current rise as they ready themselves for the start of the next part of their World Cup mission.
After byes on the first two match days in OFC Stage Three of FIFA World Cup RussiaTM qualifying, Foster and his teammates take on Group B leaders Tahiti at Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby on Thursday.
Foster was a key figure in his team’s run to the OFC Nations Cup final and was a standout in the goalless draw in that decider against New Zealand, who eventually claimed a place in the FIFA Confederations Cup in a penalty shootout.
To prove that the Kapuls’ best-ever performance wasn’t a flash in the pan but a sign of a deeper revolution, the side then went out and defeated Malaysia in a friendly – the nation’s first win over non-OFC opposition.
Now with the side set to enter the Stage Three fray, Foster says Danish coach Flemming Serritslev, who was appointed 18 months ago, has cultivated a genuine sense of belief during his relatively short tenure at the helm.
“It’s something that we haven’t had in previous games,” said the Geelong midfielder, “but with Flemming as coach he’s made a lot a change especially in our mind-set in the games we’re playing.”
“The boys picked up really well last year as you saw in the OFC Nations Cup.”
Once perennial under-achievers in confederation competitions, Papua New Guinea’s uptick in form could mark be the long-awaited football awakening of Oceania’s most populous nation, something fuelled further by the hosting of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup last year.
Foster now says the Kapuls are not happy making up the numbers and have set their sights on qualifying for Russia 2018.
“That’s why we play. Every country wants to qualify for the World Cup. Its what we want to achieve.”
He says the memory of the OFC Nations Cup final where they went within centimetres of claiming a place in the FIFA Confederations Cup, while painful, is a now also a source of more positive emotions.
“Games like that definitely build confidence and the new players have come in and they really have added to that – the confidence is very high at this stage.”
Foster admits that the team is still a work in progress and the growing pains evident in the OFC Nations Cup – giving up a two goal lead in a draw against Tahiti for example – are constantly being addressed, with Thursday’s crucial match another chance to make progress.
“We dropped the pace of that game and that’s when we allowed them to come back and equalise with two goals. We’ll need to correct our mistakes at game time.”
“It will be a tough match on Thursday. We have lost a couple of key players but with the inclusion of the new boys – the boys are gelling well with the local boys – I think we’re looking good.”
The match between Papua New Guinea and Tahiti kicks off on Thursday at 4pm local time (8pm Wednesday TAHT).