Defending champions Papua New Guinea (PNG) were held to a 2-2 draw by New Caledonia in a thrilling Sol2023 Pacific Games group match at SIFF Academy on Thursday evening.
PNG took a comfortable lead after 24 minutes through a goal by Ginnimari Wambi. However, Alice Wenessia of New Caledonia netted the equaliser two minutes later.
Both teams had equal shares of chances but failed to convert, with the match tied up 1-1 at the break.
PNG regrouped and came back stronger, dominating most of the second half and putting pressure on the New Caledonian backline.
The breakthrough finally came in the 50th minute with individual brilliance from striker Michaelyne Bubutu, who managed to skip past the New Caledonian defence before unleashing a powerful shot that managed to find the back of the net.
However, New Caledonia managed to find the much-needed equaliser in the 88th minute from Ronaldine Hnaune, who finished off a brilliant counter attack.
PNG assistant coach Eric Komeng said: “We wanted to win today to bring us a positive vibe in the camp, and we are looking forward to the semi-finals, but the draw still leaves us on top of the pool.
“Today’s game showed the quality of New Caledonia; they exposed some of our weak areas that we need to work on before the semi-finals,” he added.
With today’s victory, Papua New Guinea sits clear on top of their group with nine points, followed by New Caledonia, who now awaits results from the other groups to discover whether they are the best second-placed team, but with a big advantage.
“In the other groups, we think nobody can add the four points, so we hope to go to the next stage,” said New Caledonian coach Gilles Garcia.
The day’s 3pm match saw Cook Islands beat American Samoa 3-0 with goals from Victoria Fatiaki, Maureen Fitzpatrick, and Teretia Teinaki.
Women’s football continues tomorrow at Lawson Tama, with Samoa taking on Tonga at 12pm, followed by a group C decider between Fiji and hosts Solomon Islands at 3pm.