By JACK AMI
CENTRAL United upset PRK Gulf Komara 2-1 in the opening round of the National Soccer League’s Southern Conference at the Sir John Guise Stadium on Saturday.
Former NSL champions Hekari United managed a 1-0 win over a Bougainville to get the 2019 campaign underway while the Southern Strikers edged newcomers Star Mountain 1-0 in the other notable conference clashes.
Komara, formerly the Gulf Erema and last year’s Football Federation of PNG champions, were upstaged by a team packed with rural talent predominantly from Kaparoko and Kalo villages in Rigo, Central.
All the goals were scored in the first half with Central getting on the scoreboard first through Sebastian Kepi in the third minute from a penalty kick.
Komara found a response in the 23rd minute with Pala Paul getting his side back in the contest with a solo effort.
Opu Karo the hit the winner in 38th minute to earn their first NSL win while Komara, who were expected to win the game, have six days to regroup for their next match.
Central and Komara showed urgency in the second half but not the kind of execution they enjoyed in the first stanza.
Central were enthusiastic and took the challenge up to their more fancied rivals with Rohan Roga red carded by referee Albert Maru in the 81st minute after an illegal tackle after he was given yellow card earlier in the second half for the same offence.
Komara (crocodile in West Kerema language), had several opportunities to equalise but their shots were off the target, rushed or poorly executed.
Central United co-sponsors Kamo Kini and Morea Vavine said the win was a big morale booster and give them the confidence to do well in the NSL arena.
Vavine said although coach Kila Babaga was unavailable the players were told to play their natural game and stick to the basics.
He said he was impressed with the way the side had reacted and commended them for their effort.
“The players are all from the villages and to win this match is a morale booster and confidence builder for them starting their NSL Southern Conference season but they know there will be more tough matches ahead,” Kini said.
Vavine said he was a little disappointed that Roga was sent off in the second half as he was one of Central’s best on the day.
Vavine added that he was pleased with the way Central adjusted to being a men down by keeping Komara out for the final 14 minutes of the game.
Vavine said he was proud of the fact that despite not having all the advantages of a semi-professional football club was not stopping them from enjoying their football.
“We don’t have a major sponsor, we don’t have much in the way of training equipment or even a proper field at our villages of Kaparoko and Kalo but we’re doing our best.”
Vavine thanked PNG Ports, Pacific Towing and Hekari FC for their support to prepare them for the semi-professional league.
NSL Round 1 Results: Southern – Sat, Jan 27 – Central 2 Gulf Komara 1, Port Moresby 2 Eastern Stars 1, Hekari 1 Bougainville 0; Sun, Jan 28 – Southern Strikers 1 Star Mountain 0; Northern – Sun, Jan 28 – Tusbab Stallions 1 Laiwaden 0, Markham 0 Lahi 0, Toti City 3 Morobe United 1, PNG United 4 Morobe Wawens 3.
By JACK AMI