Photo Credit: Pacific Games News Service
The gold medal play-offs for the men’s and women’s football tournaments at the 2023 Pacific Games kick-off this weekend, capping off a fortnight of football action in Honiara.
Friday sees the women’s action reach its climax, with Fiji facing off against Papua New Guinea in the final. Both sides impressed at the semi-final stage – Fiji with a strong 3-0 victory over New Caledonia, whilst a hat-trick from captain Ramona Padio saw Papua New Guinea power their way past Samoa with a 5-1 win.
Fiji Head Coach Angelina Chua is in confident mood as her side look ahead to their gold medal opportunity.
“We are really excited for the final tomorrow against the defending champion, Papua New Guinea. From the beginning, we know only two teams will make it and we took one match at a time to ensure that we focus on ourselves, so that we can get the result we needed.
“The team had hustled well in the conditions, training in mid-day heat and also in rainy conditions. Our head is in a good space and ready to take on the final together as Team Fiji Kulas. It will be an exciting match that will showcase the talent pool of the Fijian women’s football,” she said.
Her counterpart, Papua New Guinea Head Coach Frederica Sakette, knows the scale of the challenge facing her young side, despite being defending champions.
“The team is looking forward to the game. We are not underestimating Fiji as they have fought their way to the final.
“This will be a replay of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup final in 2022, when we won 2-1. 70% of our team is made up of girls under the age of 23, so we are in a transition period for the women’s national team. We will give our best to defend the gold medal as the reigning champions,” Sakette said.
In the men’s gold medal play-off, hosts Solomon Islands will be hoping that a passionate home crowd will prove the difference when they take on New Caledonia on Saturday.
A Rafa Lea’i penalty and a late second-half strike from Micah Lea’alafa was enough for the Solomon Islands to see off a strong Fiji side in the semi-finals. Their final opponents New Caledonia edged past Vanuatu in the other semi, with a first-half goal from Makalué Xowi proving to be the decider.
Solomon Islands Head Coach Felipe Vega-Arango Alonso expects a firm challenge in his side’s quest for the gold medal.
“I have a lot of respect for New Caledonia. They don’t like to play the ball too long, they keep the ball on the ground, they’re talented. They have a lot of skills and it will be a tough match but at this moment I have full confidence in my team.
“Now we have to forget about this game [semi-final] and think about the final and I need to transfer this feeling to the players,” he said.
The two sides met earlier in the year at the MSG Prime Minister’s Cup. Solomon Islands came out victorious then, with a 1-0 victory and New Caledonia Head Coach Johann Sidaner believes his team will be better off for that experience.
“I think the boys reacted well after our defeat in the MSG Cup final against the Solomons. We learned our lesson from an opponent who had been better organised than us in terms of their collective and being more disciplined,” he said.
“We know the quality of our opponent, who are formidable offensively, with three attackers who have fire in their legs. They know how to take advantage of the slightest opportunity to hurt you and raise the stadium. It’s up to us to know how to counter their plans,” Sidaner continued.
2023 Pacific Games
Gold Medal play-offs
Friday, December 1
Fiji v Papua New Guinea, 7.00pm SBT
Saturday, December 2
New Caledonia v Solomon Islands, 10.00am SBT