Papua New Guinea are through to the semi-finals of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2022 after beating Tonga in surely one of the tournament’s greatest ever games at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva, Fiji.
PNG fought back from two goals down to lead in extra time, after Tonga stunned the top-ranked side with two first-half goals, before being forced to penalties where goalkeeper Fidelma Watpore was their hero.
PNG had won all three previous OFC Women’s Nations Cup meetings between these two sides, with Tonga failing to score in any of those fixtures. On the half-hour mark, Team Mataliki broke that record in sensational fashion.
It was a family affair, as Daviana Vaka took down twin sister Laveni’s long-ball before firing a vicious 35-yard strike over Watpore to secure a well-earned lead.
Despite their underdog tag Tonga continued to press forward and it was the imperious centre-back Laveni Vaka who grabbed another assist for Tonga’s second goal.
After a marauding run into the PNG half she chipped a perfectly weighted pass to Jazmine Loto’aniu, who fired home Tonga’s second to further stun the pre-tournament favourites.
PNG head coach Nicola Demaine attempted to stem the flow at half-time, but it was Connie Selby’s side who next had a chance to secure the win. Loto’aniu hit her close-range opportunity straight at Watpore in the PNG goal after an electric counter-attack.
It was a golden opportunity missed and PNG took full advantage as their substitutions began to pay dividends.
Half-time introduction Padio pulled her nation back into the game, reacting fastest to fire home after Tonga’s replacement goalkeeper Meleana Taufa had saved Meagen Gunemba’s effort.
Gunemba, another substitute, then pulled PNG level. Her corner-kick delivery evaded all-comers before finding its way beyond Taufa for the equaliser.
Gunemba’s ferocious free-kick and Marie Kaipu’s one-on-one shot were then well saved by Taufa, who was later fortunate her mistimed clearance was not punished by Kaipu, as PNG piled on the pressure.
Tonga held on until the end of normal time and Laveni Vaka again produced a tenacious piece of defending to deny Kaipu early in extra-time before Padio thought she had secured the win, heading home Charlie Yanding’s well-placed cross only for Tonga to produce more heroics.
Loto’aniu shrugged off her marker and hit a low powerful drive which snuck past Watpore’s near-post for her second goal of the game to take the tie to penalties.
After Daviana Vaka hit the post with Tonga’s second spot-kick Watpore was the hero, saving from Ofaloto La’akulu and Fololeni Siale for victory with her teammates mobbing their experienced stopper, knowing she had saved them from a shock exit.
Papua New Guinea will now play Samoa in the semi-finals on Wednesday, July 27 while Tonga, who only qualified for the quarter-finals by virtue of a better fair play record than Vanuatu, will be left disappointed but proud of their efforts.
Papua New Guinea head coach Nicola Demaine:
“You can’t fault Tonga. They put lots of balls forward, they knew what their strengths were and they played to them.
“But we have practiced a lot of penalties, with the walk and everything and I think that paid off today and you have got to take your hat off to the goalie Fidelma (Watpore).”
Tonga head coach Connie Selby:
“It is disappointing and the girls will be really disappointed but I think it is their best game of the tournament…
“I am just so proud of them. I think the country should be proud of them as well.”
Papua New Guinea 3 AET (Ramona PADIO 63‘, 99’, Meagen GUNEMBA 70’)
Tonga 3 AET (Daviana VAKA 29‘, Jazmine LOTO’ANIU 44’, 109’)
Full-time: 2-2 (3-3 AET)