Pre-tournament favourites Papua New Guinea have won their opening game of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2022 but were forced to work hard to beat a spirited Vanuatu side 3-1 at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva, Fiji.

With Papua New Guinea the highest-ranked nation in the tournament and Vanuatu the lowest this was expected to be a one-sided affair but that did not prove to be the case.

Vanuatu threatened to cause PNG problems with a high-pressing tactic, the industrious Jane Alatoa keeping PNG head coach Nicola Demaine’s defence constantly on their toes.

Meanwhile, PNG remained dominant in possession and their slick passing paid dividends shortly after the half-hour mark. Vanuatu failed to clear their lines following a sweeping move, allowing PNG captain Meagen Gunemba the chance to play in Marie Kaipu to smash home the opening goal.

Gunemba continually caused problems for the Vanuatu defence, seeing a powerful half-volley saved and a long-range strike go wide in the first-half before coming close to stretching PNG’s lead early in the second.

But Vanuatu continued to bely their low world ranking and PNG goalkeeper Faith Kasiray had to produce heroics to maintain her team’s lead.

Again it was Alatoa causing problems for PNG, her precision through ball unleashing Brenda Anis one-on-on whose powerful effort was stopped in stunning fashion by the PNG goalie.

Kasiray came to the rescue again to deny Vanuatu moments later, rushing out bravely to deny Alatoa and suffering the consequences with a facial injury, having to be replaced by back-up goalie Betty Sam.

Sensing vulnerability Vanuatu continued to go on the attack and their high-pressing tactic soon paid off. Replacement keeper Sam’s errand goal-kick landed at the feet of a grateful Vanessa Keletia who duly slotted home an equaliser that sent the Vanuatu bench into rapture.

Unfortunately for Jean Robert Yalou’s side that joy was short-lived. A mistimed clearance from Florida Willy allowed PNG through and Ramona Padio outmuscled her marker before hammering home for 2-1 just five minutes later.

PNG head coach Nicola Demaine then turned to her strength in depth on the bench, with substitute Charlie Yanding’s brilliant solo effort giving them an unassailable 3-1 lead and all three points from what proved to be a tough opening fixture.

Vanuatu will take heart from the manner of their defeat and hope for better when they take on Tahiti in their second Group B fixture on Wednesday, July 20 while PNG will look to cement their place in the quarter-finals when they take on Tahiti on Sunday, July 17.

Vanuatu 1 (Vanessa KELETIA 71’ )

Papua New Guinea 3 (Marie KAIPU 34’, Ramona PADIO 76’, Charlie YANDING 79’)

Half-time: 0-1