By HENRY MORABANG
THE headline of the Fifa website read; “The goal that rocked the nation.”
And it certainly was! It was PNG’s third and final game in Group A. In the first two games against Brazil and Sweden, PNG, included in the Fifa Under 20 Women’s World Cup only because it was hosting, lost. Not only did PNG lose, the team didn’t score any goals at all in those previous matches.
In its final match last Sunday, PNG was pitted against the biggest guns in their group, Korea DPR (North Korea).
The National Football Stadium was packed to capacity to catch a glimpse of the game. Families, relatives, friends, local soccer enthusiasts and those who were not really into football turned up to try to goad the PNG team towards performing better.
The game began and soon after Korea DPR opened the scorebook with a goal. The team practically parked inside the PNG side of the field and the pressure was on as the host team.
Sixteen minutes into the first half, PNG striker Nicolette Ageva’s kick had the ball touching the back of the Korean net. To say the crowd went wild is putting it mildly. Their roar was deafening. A goal was what they wanted to see. And that was what they got.
While Korea DPR eventually went on to win the game, 7-1, Papua New Guineans watching at the stadium, and on TV, and listening on the radio, were satisfied that at least the kiaus (eggs) of the first two encounters was broken.
PNG’s first match against Brazil drew a lot of criticism from the PNG public after they were hammered 9-0. Sports Minister, Justin Tkatchenko, however, was quick to defend the young women saying, “These people do not know what football is.”
He also pointed out that PNG had not qualified to be in the Cup but was included only because it was the host country.
Nicollette Ageva will go down in the history book as the first Papua New Guinean – man or woman, to score in a Fifa World Cup, at any level.
Despite eventually succumbing to one-time title holder, Korea DPR, the fact that PNG scored a goal in a Fifasanctioned, world-class soccer event, was the talk of the town in many places around the country.
The PNG team was passionate about what they did out on the field – win or lose,the PNG team gave all their heart playing on the world stage. Even the keyboard critics were now silenced.
Nicolette’s goal has now heralded the new era of women’s football in the country.
While thanking the ladies during the farewell function hosted by PNG Football Association (PNGFA), President David Chung, and the minister thanked very player and the team management for putting Papua New Guinea on the world stage.
“For you to go up against the world’s best such as Brazil who sleep, breath and talk football and to score a goal against a former title holder, it is unbelievable achievement, it is unbelievable achievement,” the minister stressed.
Tkatchenko described the goal as the start to a new legacy for women’s football in the country.
“PNG,” he said, “was not playing against teams popping up from some backyard in Wewak or Port Moresby, they are semi-professional and such an opportunity will not come around in a long time.”
According to the minister, the experience gained from these games will help the team prepare for next World Cup women’s qualifier.
He thanked the players and the supporters who attended the match, “despite the odds against us.”
“I asked for at least one World Cup goal and we got it for our country,”Tkatchenko said. PNG’s American coach, Lisa Cole, also had much praise for her side saying they fought from beginning to end.
Cole said the team had improved a lot over the past nine months. They had been hoping to do better than they did which she put down to not enough confidence.
“This is the first step for Papua New Guinea women’s soccer, this isn’t the end. Every country has to make that first step in a World Cup at some point.
“We will look back on this as an incredible moment for Papua New Guinea women’s football. They played against Brazil in front of a full house, they had Papua New Guineans come out and support us.
“The future is very bright if we make more of an investment. I keep telling them (the team) that they have made history, but now we need to continue,” Cole said.
The Government is now keener on supporting PNGFA and its venture to develop women’s football in the country.
The handover of the new PNG Football Stadium to PNGFA is testimony to that. The handover is part of a mutual agreement between PNGFA and the PNG Sports Foundation for the conduct of football programmes.
“We have a brand new stadium dedicated to football because of this World Cup U-20 women event,” the minister said. Who knows, PNG just might win a game at the next Fifa World Cup.
By HENRY MORABANG