By HENRY MORABANG
THE Papua New Guinea Kapuls won many admirers and captured national attention with a courageous effort in the Oceania Football Confederation Nations Cup soccer final against New Zealand.
The match, which was eventually won 4-2 by the All Whites in a penalty shootout at the Sir John Guise Stadium in front more than 14,000 fans, saw the home side finish regulation time 0-0 and a further 30 minutes of extra time still could not separate the sides.
PNG’s performance at the Oceania Football Confederation tournament saw them make the finals for the first time in 43 years and proved that the stragglers in regional soccer had finally made the transition to being on equal footing with the other top nations in the Tahiti, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Fiji.
The All Whites held their nerve to edge PNG 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out and qualify for next year’s Fifa Confederations Cup in Russia.
New Zealand’s Stefan Marinovic, pictured, showed why he is considered the region’s leading goalkeeper when he saved two spot kicks during the shoot-out to give his side the winning advantage.
The all-amateur PNG team roared on by capacity crowd, created more chances than New Zealand during the match.
Striker Raymond Gunemba hit the crossbar from a tight angle in the second half, while Nigel Dabinyaba forced a diving save from Marinovic in one of the few highlights of the first-half.
New Zealand captain Rory Fallon went close with a header from a free kick on the hour mark, while Jeremy Brockie missed from point-blank range in extra-time.
In the shoot-out, Marinovic stopped Koriak Upaiga’s first attempt but the advantages was short-lived as Brockie pushed his attempt wide.
Gunemba then saw his shot tipped onto the post by Marinovic, allowing Marco Rojas to slot the winning goal.
Fallon said it was a difficult game and credited the home side for giving his team one of its toughest games to date.
“Credit to PNG; that was one of the toughest games I’ve been involved in,” Fallon said.
He said PNG’s seemingly endless energy caused problems for the All Whites in all four corners of the pitch. Winning coach Anthony Hudson commended his team’s opponents for their performance but said his charges deserved the win.
“I’m pleased with our players, we deserved it.
“It’s a tough way to go out, and I feel for PNG. I thought they were outstanding tonight. Penalties are a tough way to go for any team.”
With a hugely patriotic crowd behind his side and an outstanding 120 minutes played out on the pitch, it was a disappointing end for PNG coach Flemming Serritslev.
However he remained proud of what his side achieved against the giants of regional football.
“Of course I’m proud of the players, I think they’ve had a very good tournament here on home soil,” Serritslev said.
“Of course we are disappointed, anyone would be … when you are within reach of picking up the gold medal.”
In the individual awards, Marinovic picked up the Golden Gloves award, New Caledonia captain Bertrand Kai collected the Fair Play award, while hosts PNG were awarded for their outstanding performances, with Gunemba picking up the Golden Boot in recognition of his five goals, and Muta was awarded the Golden Ball.
New Zealand qualified for the Confederations Cup for the first time since 2009, while the top-six nations at the tournament — PNG, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Tahiti — qualified for the third stage of World Cup qualifiers.
Match result: PNG 0 New Zealand 0 (NZ won 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out)
NZ 4 (Rory Fallon, Michael McGlinchey, Moses Dyer, Marco Rojas) PNG 2 (Tommy Semmy, Michael Foster)
By HENRY MORABANG