Papua New Guinea has locked in a semi-final spot in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Oceania Qualifiers, beating Fiji 2-1 in a dramatic game at Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha.
PNG came into the match knowing that a draw would be enough for them to advance, as they had a superior goal difference. However, coach Bob Morris was after a win as his side looked to build on a brave loss to New Zealand and high energy win over New Caledonia by attacking from start to finish. The Fijians certainly would have been forgiven for being a little shell shocked after their 4-0 loss to New Zealand earlier in the week.
After a tentative start by both sides, Tevita Waranaivalu decided to take matters into his own hands after 12 minutes and sparked a counterattack that saw the ball end up with Setareki Hughes on the left-hand edge of the box. His curling low cross back inside was inch-perfect for Waranaivalu to stretch out and finish a fantastic goal that put Fiji ahead.
Some wonderfully patient work by Fijian skipper Roy Krishna and Sairusi Naulabu set up Hughes for a good chance to double the lead, but his shot went wide. This seemed to sting PNG into life, with a nice ball setting up Tommy Semmy to take possession in the box and cut back beautifully. His shot was on target but tipped over the bar by Mohammed Alam, but his counterpart Ronald Warisan pulled off an even more spectacular effort at the other end not long after. Krishna looked to have set up Naulabu with a low cross, but Warisan charged out and blocked the shot with his feet in an impressive piece of aerobatics.
However, the big moment of the match followed just as halftime loomed, with Waranaivalu getting sent off for an elbow to the head of Jacob Sabua. Referee Abdul Al Ruaile had no hesitation in showing a red after the off the ball contact.
This proved to be a serious momentum shift, which culminated in one of the goals of the tournament by PNG striker Ati Kepo. His stunning turn of pace from almost halfway saw him run into the box and finish beautifully to draw PNG level. They continued the domination after the break, with Semmy hitting the side netting twice in the space of five minutes.
Semmy had a golden chance with a wide-open goal not long after, but his shot was found the backside of defender Remeru Tekiate and bounced away. But it didn’t matter too much, as in the 63rd minute he finished off a sweeping move with a much better strike to put PNG ahead.
It was then Warisan’s turn to shine again at the other end as Fiji desperately searched for an equaliser, putting his body on the line to deny Naulabu for a second time. Raymond Gunemba should have put it out of reach for PNG in the 82nd minute, but his shot from close range was blocked by replacement goalkeeper Isikeli Sevanaia.
In the end, it didn’t matter as PNG held firm in a frantic final stage. The 2-1 win sends the Kapuls through to a semi-final against the Solomon Islands on Sunday Qatar time, however it means that Bula Boys will be heading home from the Oceania Qualifiers.