By ISAAC LIRI
PAPUA New Guinea’s hopes of making it to the next stage of the Fifa World Cup qualifiers were crushed after the Solomon Islands beat the home side 2-1 in Port Moresby yesterday.
Heading into the fixture, PNG needed to win by a five-goal margin over their fellow Melanesians and despite a determined pre-match outlook by coach Fleming Serritslev, the Kapuls had a mountain to climb in front of hopeful fans at the PNG Football Stadium in Waigani.
That task was made all the harder for the Kapuls when defender Felix Komolong was red-carded by Japanese referee Jumpei Iida for handling the ball in the 31st minute.
Despite leading 1-0 after a 17th minute goal by striker Raymond Gunemba, the Kapuls were forced to play the remainder of the match with 10 men.
That all but ended PNG’s hopes of winning the contest, let alone scoring multiple goals to top Group B of the OFC Stage 3 Qualifiers.
The visitors, who scored a 3-2 win in the first leg of the home-and-away series, plied the pressure after the sending off and Solomon Islands captain Henry Fa’arodo, who missed the Honiara game through suspension, slotted the equaliser two minutes later.
Solomon Islands’ Jerry Donga scored his side’s second goal in injury time of the first half to heap more pressure on the hosts.
An upset Kapuls coach Serristlev insisted his player had accidentally stopped the ball with his hands and the sanction was more than what was warranted.
“This is the second time that we’ve been in a situation like this with one man down but we cannot do much about it,” a disappointed Serristlev said at the post-match presser.
The Dane credited his side with staying competitive despite being at a numerical disadvantage and pointed out his side had done well to hold out the Solomon Islanders in the second stanza.
“It was a great effort playing with 10 men and keeping them from scoring in the second half and I am very proud of that,” Serristlev said.
Solomon Islands captain Fa’arodo commended the Kapuls for their brave effort in shutting them out in the second half and acknowledged his side for coming to Port Moresby and getting the victory that saw them top Group B.
Fa’arodo said the focus was now on playing Group A winner New Zealand in the final of the OFC Stage 3 Qualifier.
By ISAAC LIRI