A 3-2 home ground victory for Solomon Islands over Papua New Guinea in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Qualifiers – OFC Stage 3 has put them in good stead for the final Group B encounter in Port Moresby in four days’ time.
An impressive first half from the Solomon Islands had them putting the Papua New Guinea backline under pressure with goalkeeper Ronald Warisan having to come out of his area to fend off a couple of dangerous attacks.
Jerry Donga was in stunning form and an early effort came off the cross bar to deny him the opener, but he played a crucial part in the first goal when it did arrive.
After beating several markers up the right flank, Donga’s cross dropped neatly at the six-yard box edge for captain Benjamin Totori who had his effort blocked by a nimble Warisan.
The clearance only got as far as Atkin Kaua however, who powered a low shot past a diving Warisan to open the scoring in the 12th minute.
Papua New Guinea had a couple of their own chances with David Browne and captain Michael Foster combining well on several occasions, but they were denied either by the on-form Phillip Mango, the well-structured defence or the pesky post.
Donga again played a crucial role in the second goal as he received up the right, dribbled to the goal line before placing yet another perfectly weighted cross for a waiting Totori who placed it expertly past Warisan.
Papua New Guinea must have been treated to an inspiring half-time speech from coach Flemming Serritslev as they got the second half underway with a bang.
After winning an early corner, Foster got his foot to the delivery to give his side their first goal in the 48th minute. The equaliser was a tidy effort from Raymond Gunemba and Patrick Aisa as they went head-to-head with a lone Mango.
Gunemba drew the keeper before passing off to Aisa who slotted into an empty net.
As legs tired and the heat and humidity started to have an effect, Solomon Islands made three changes, including swapping out two veterans – James Naka coming in to replace Totori.
It was a smart move as Solomon Islands hit back almost immediately after the third change. Naka played a well-timed pass to Micah Lea’alafa who rounded Warisan to claim the 72nd minute winner.
Papua New Guinea continued to press but the feat proved too great on this occasion as they were left to settle for the loss.
Solomon Islands coach Felipe Vega Arango Alonso was delighted to get the three important points in what he knew would be a tough match for his side despite the home advantage.
“As I said yesterday, I knew it was going to be a very tough game,” he said.
“To be honest with you, it would have been really unfair if we didn’t win this match because in the first 45 minutes we played wonderful football.
“We had a lot of chances, a close one on the post, but we knew the game wasn’t over and that’s what I told them in the locker room.”
Vega Arango Alonso said he knew if his side gave any leeway, Papua New Guinea would take advantage of it and that’s exactly what happened.
“We made two mistakes – that happens it is football – and they tied. But the most important thing is the character of the team because when you make two mistakes like this and they score after a 2-0 lead, you can go down.”
Although he doesn’t want to play favourites, the Spaniard was particularly impressed by Totori’s strike.
“It was a beautiful play. The right back got the ball, he made a pass to the winger. The winger one beautiful touch and then the centre forward – I mean if you see that in the Champions League, that’s a beautiful goal!”
For Papua New Guinea coach Flemming Serritslev it was an exciting, but ultimately disappointing, afternoon at Lawson Tama.
“Of course I’m disappointed because we came here to win, but we also have to admit that our first half was too bad – we actually lost the game in the first half,” he admitted.
“I’m very satisfied with the way our players did in the second half, unfortunately when it was two-two, it was as if they were satisfied with the result and figured they’d go out to beat them in Port Moresby.
“We should absolutely have continued because we had Solomon Islands in our hands at that time, but we forgot to do it.”
Papua New Guinea will have their chance at revenge at PNG Football Stadium in Port Moresby on Tuesday and with Solomon Islands needed a minimum of a draw to progress to the Stage 3 final with New Zealand it’s expected to be another thrilling encounter.