By HENRY MORABANG
PAPUA New Guinea soccer sits on the cusp of its greatest moment on the field — the history-making clash against New Zealand in tomorrow’s OFC Nations Cup final in Port Moresby.
The country’s national men’s soccer team had lagged behind the rest of the region for years and had never made the playoffs of this event — let alone a final since the first edition in 1973.
It has taken 43 years for the Kapuls to finally reach a decider and coach Flemming Serritslev said his side had achieved their pre-tournament aim of making the final — the only thing left to do was winning it.
Serritslev said his side was up against the heavily-favoured New Zealand side bristling with experience across the park, but PNG were hoping to put in another inspired performance in front of their home crowd at the Sir John Guise Stadium.
Coming off a thrilling 2-1win over the Solomon Islands in Wednesday night’s semifinal, Serritslev said the side had responded to the challenge after some decent form in the group stage.
“It was a fantastic night for PNG football and for the country. I’m so proud of the players for how hard they’ve worked since the start of April,” Serritslev said.
“Now they actually get their reward and they really deserve it.”
The coach was not getting carried away, telling his players that their was still unfinished.
But the Dane said it was a fitting final.
“We came this far, and the boys are all eager to create a milestone,” he said.
Serritslev believes his men have the form and right attitude to pull off one of the biggest upsets in OFC men’s soccer but in order to make that dream a reality, they would have to rise another level and stay focused on the task at hand.
“We paid the price against the Solomon Islands for celebrating too early, and we don’t want a repeat of this against the tournament favourites,” he said.
Kapuls captain David Muta said making the final was an exhilarating moment for his side, but they knew it was not over for them.
“Captaining PNG in a Nations Cup final means a lot,” Muta said.
“I think it’s going to be a really big challenge against New Zealand, but we have to stand strong and walk together as a team,” he said.
New Zealand captain Chris Wood said he was pleased his side had reached the final by edging New Caledonia 1-0 in their semifinal and the All Whites were intent on completing the mission of regaining the Nations Cup.
“The main thing is we’re through to the next stage,” Wood said.
“We came up against a very tough side in New Caledonia but it’s what we do. We dig in, we fight and we came out with the right result. PNG is no exception, which means we will have to work hard.”
The Kiwis have quietly spoken about the heat factor but do not want the opponents to know they are paying much attention to it.
By HENRY MORABANG