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The rise of Meagan Gunemba

Papua New Guinea's Meagen Gunemba with the ball against Samoa at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2018. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Meagan Gunemba has a rich and proud pedigree, as she carries on the legacy of her famous family which has left an indelible mark on Papua New Guinea and Oceania’s football landscape.

The 25-year-old striker’s father Peter is the country’s top coach with vast experience in mentoring both the men’s and women’s national teams as well as a number of Papua New Guinea’s leading club sides in the OFC Champions League.

One of her brothers Raymond, who was the Golden Boot winner at the 2016 OFC Nations Cup, is a prolific striker with a plethora of goals at club as well as international level, while her other sibling Troy has also distinguished himself as a midfielder during his four OFC Champions League campaigns with Lae City.

Following in the footsteps of her legendary family, Meagan wasn’t daunted by the weight of expectations when she burst onto the Oceania football scene as a 17-year-old at the 2012 OFC U-20 Women’s Championship in New Zealand.

The young striker grabbed her first goal for Papua New Guinea in a 4-2 victory against New Caledonia as her side finished the tournament as runners-up behind the hosts.

The same tournament was again hosted by New Zealand two years later with Gunemba scoring a hat-trick in her side’s 4-0 win over Vanuatu on her way to finish the tournament with the Golden Ball, awarded to the best player of the competition.

Meagan Gunemba celebrates scoring against Vanuatu at the 2014 OFC U-20 Women’s Championship. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Eight months later, Papua New Guinea provided the venue for Meagan’s first full international at the 2014 OFC Women’s Nations Cup.

And she didn’t disappoint, grabbing three goals in the hosts’ 4-1 win over Cook Islands on the opening match day.

Following a loss to New Zealand, Gunemba was on target again to help her country defeat Tonga 3-0 and finish in second place behind New Zealand.

The 2015 Pacific Games was another memorable occasion for the young striker who contributed with five goals, including another hat-trick against Fiji, as Papua New Guinea defended their title on home soil.

Despite a comprehensive 7-1 loss to New Zealand in the 2016 OFC Olympic qualifying playoff match in Port Moresby, Gunemba again had every reason to leave the field with her head held high after she raced clear of the defence to slot past Kiwi goalkeeper Erin Nayler and give her side some consolation.

That goal against New Zealand also provided the talented forward ammunition in a friendly rivalry with her famous brother Raymond.

Up to this point in their long-standing family banter, Raymond had the bragging rights when it came to one particular part of their international careers.

During the 2008 Olympic qualifiers, he scored a brace against New Zealand in Papua New Guinea’s 5-2 defeat which he has long held over his sister.

And Maegan was all too happy to silence her sibling.

“It was my dream for a long time,” she said.

“Starting with the U-17s and U-20s I was dreaming of scoring against New Zealand.

“My elder brother had scored two against New Zealand and he’s been challenging me to score against them. Now I’ve done it, but Raymond scored two and I’ve scored one, so I’ll make sure I score two more against New Zealand.”

Fast forward two years to the 2018 OFC Women’s Nations Cup in New Caledonia and Maegan further enhanced her reputation by emulating Raymond’s achievement of winning the Golden Boot at Oceania’s most prestigious international tournament.

Meagan Gunemba at the 2018 OFC Women’s Nations Cup. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Coached by her father Peter, the Papua New Guinea team, that also included his other daughter Judith, faced Samoa in their campaign opener in Kone.

And it was the Melanesians who took the honour of the competition’s opening goal when Meagen slotted past an advancing Meripa Seumanutafa.

She doubled her side’s advantage with a well struck drive five minutes later and grabbed another to seal her hat-trick, making for one happy coach, and proud father.

“I was very pleased with Meagen. I expected her to score goals, but three is enough for her,” he said after his team’s 5-0 win.

Papua New Guinea cruised past New Caledonia 6-2 next with Gunemba notching up an assist, before rounding out the group stages with a 3-1 win over Tahiti in a match in which Meagan had a rare off day with chances going anywhere but on target.

In the semi-final Gunemba was back on the scoresheet by catching the Fijians off guard at the end of quick counter-attack to put her side in front inside the opening ten minutes.

However, Fiji responded with five unanswered goals to end Papua New Guinea’s title hopes.

In the playoff for third place Gunemba’s side faced New Caledonia for the bragging rights of a podium finish.

Going into the match both sides were motivated to do well and restore some pride and it looked like it would be a close encounter despite Papua New Guinea running out to a 6-2 victory when they met during the group stage.

On that occasion Marie Kaipu was the irritant for New Caledonia, this time it was Meagen Gunemba taking up the mantle as she took just five minutes to outpace the backline and slot home for the opener.

She had her brace by the 36th minute, her hat-trick in the 54th minute before striking in the 82nd for her fourth of the afternoon with her side brushing aside Les Cagous 7-1 to pick up the bronze medal.

Gunemba ended the tournament with eight goals to share the Golden Boot with Sarah Gregorious from New Zealand.

2018 OFC Women’s Nations Cup Golden Boot winners Meagan Gunemba and Sarah Gregorious. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Hosted by Samoa, the 2019 Pacific Games tournament was a far more successful competition for the Papua New Guineans who were crowned champions for the fifth consecutive time.

Once again leading the line, Gunemba made a telling contribution to her side’s triumph with five goals, including a hat-trick against Cook Islands.

Following the disruptions to the international calendar caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the resumption of OFC competitions can’t come soon enough.

With the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup set to be co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia plus increased OFC funding for the development of women’s football in our region, the future is bright for Oceania’s top female players.

And still at the age of just 25, the best is yet to come for one of the Pacific’s rising stars Meagan Gunemba.

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