Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea flew Oceania’s flag high and proud on a historic day at the inaugural OFC Youth Development tournament in Port Vila’s Korman Stadium.
Both of these Pacific sides were facing daunting tasks against their highly regarded opponents from Europe and Asia, especially on the back of their disappointing start to the competition three days ago.
Papua New Guinea came into Sunday’s match against UEFA representatives Estonia following a 2-1 defeat to group A rivals Tahiti.
Meanwhile, hosts Vanuatu were comprehensively outplayed by New Caledonia in their Group B opener, garnering little confidence ahead of their meeting with a seasoned Indian team that has been working together for the past six months.
But against the odds, Papua New Guinea pushed Estonia all the way before suffering a penalty shoot-out heartbreak, and Vanuatu held off India until the dying stages of their encounter only to succumb to the narrowest of defeats courtesy of an own goal.
Papua New Guinea 1-1 Estonia (4-5 on Penalties)
A determined and confident Estonia have quickly settled into their rhythm against Papua New Guinea, controlling the pace of the match during the early exchanges with accurate passing at the back and probing attacks at the other end.
The Europeans’ superior ball and territorial possession was underlined in the 18th minute when they forced three consecutive corners to put their Oceania opponents under increasing pressure.
However, by failing to create a real goalscoring opportunity Estonia have invited Papua New Guinea back into the game, and Anthony Pakakota’s men have responded the best possible way in the 21st minute when Solomon Rani took advantage of a goalkeeping mistake by slotting home into Martin Tilk’s empty net from distance to give his side the lead against the run of play.
The goal was a wake-up call Estonia needed as the Europeans pushed forward searching for an equaliser.
Led by their attacking trio of Georg Grahv, Daniel Fedotov and Robin Limberg Estonia looked increasingly threatening and came close to leveling, the match through Georg-Marten Meumers who missed his volley from close range in the 34th minute.
Moments later Erik Kruglo’s looping header crashed against Adrian Redenut’s woodwork before Fedetov’s diving header narrowly sailed above the Papua New Guinea keeper’s crossbar.
In the final minutes of the first half Meumers missed another golden chance by flashing wide from close range following a pinpoint cross from the right by Grahv.
Despite a flurry of chances the Estonians were unable to breach the disciplined defence of their Oceania rivals in the opening stanza, allowing Pakakota’s troops to take a narrow lead into the break.
Andres Opers’ men showed plenty of intent when the match resumed with Fedotov finding himself unmarked inside the box after a strong run but once again the chance went begging as he was unable connect with the incoming cross.
On the hour mark the Papua New Guineans flexed their muscles with a rare foray into Estonia’s final third courtesy of Tuvirapa Aingas who did all the hard work to shake off his defenders only to blast his shot off target.
Albeit displaying plenty of technical ability with eye-catching combination plays the Estonian strikers were guilty of straying offside on several occasion and it looked as if the match will end in frustration for the Europeans.
But there was a late twist with Estonia’s persistence finally paying off deep into injury time thanks to Aleksander Iljin’s superb volley from the edge of the box which levelled the scores sending the match into a penalty shoot-out.
With nothing separating the two sides over 90 minutes, and nine of the ten penalties converted in the shoot-out, it took just one save by Estonia keeper Martin Tilk from Renagi Ila to decide the absorbing and closely fought contest.
Vanuatu 0-1 India
Local supporters who have turned up in great numbers at Korman Stadium despite their team’s poor opening performance against New Caledonia, were rewarded by a much improved and spirited showing by the young Vanuatu side.
As expected India have tried to assert their dominance from the outset and the visitors came close to opening the scoring in spectacular fashion following a slick sweeping move at the end of which Aman Chetri was cruelly denied by the crossbar in the third minute.
Despite the blistering start by India, that was the closest they came to scoring in the first half.
Vanuatu were impressive and well organised in the back restricting the Asians to speculative long range efforts, while looking dangerous on the counter courtesy of the lively Jayson Bule.
Similarly to his opening match against New Caledonia, goalkeeper James Chilia showed impressive aerial presence and the entire Vanuatu defence looked comfortable in absorbing India’s attacking pressure, while looking to catch their opponents off-guard on the counter.
Following a scoreless first half, the pattern continued with India displaying slick passing and technical ability without causing any real threat in the final third.
Vanuatu held firm at the back, repelling any Indian attempts with ease as the game looked to be heading towards a stalemate.
That all changed in the 78th minute through an unfortunate deflection from a Sumit Rathi’s shot from inside the box.
Rathi, unmarked inside the box, did celebrate like he scored from 12 metres out, however replays showed the ball found its way into the Vanuatu net via the outstretched leg of the unlucky Armando Avo to settle the contest by the smallest of margins imaginable.
On Wednesday’s Match Day 3, Tahiti will face European representatives Estonia in Group A, while host new Caledonia will test themselves against their Group B rivals India from the Asian Confederation.