Pacific Games rematch could decide a semi-finalist

After going down in their respective opening matches at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup on Sunday, Samoa and Tahiti will each be looking for redemption when they meet on Wednesday.

But all eyes will be on the rematch of the 2011 and 2015 Pacific Games final which has seen Papua New Guinea twice edge their opponents New Caledonia for the gold medal.

The final which hurt the most was the 2011 edition which was played in New Caledonia, and while the bid for revenge in 2015 was unsuccessful, captain Celine Xolawawa remains optimistic about her side’s chances this time around.

“In 2015, we hoped to get our revenge because the loss on home soil was tough. But to lose twice in a row was particularly difficult. On top of that, in 2011 we beat them in the pool play, but lost in the final! 2-0 in the group, then a 1-0 loss in the final. It’s still right there in the memory bank,” Xolawawa recalled.

“We know it’s a team which is incredibly aggressive, tall, strong, so we will take some hits I’m sure and the girls will have to remain calm, and we can’t be scared of any contact.

“It’s going to be an important match and they won’t give anything up and we can’t either.”

For Xolawawa, who was part of both of those unsuccessful campaigns, the opportunity to change the course of history is there for the taking.

“I’m sure the girls, both the old and the new, don’t want a repeat of what we experienced in 2011 and 2015, we can’t have any regrets so I think we’ll give everything.

“This is the match we can’t lose.”

The cohesive performance from the injured captain’s teammates against Tahiti certainly helps put her mind at ease, but New Caledonia will need to be a little sharper for much longer periods if they want to contain the pace and unpredictability of their Melanesian opponents.

The Cagoues almost paid the price for some lax moments in defence as Tahiti narrowed a 3-0 lead to just 3-2, and came within an inch of scoring the equaliser before New Caledonia were able to bury the encounter.

The lapse in concentration is something coach Kamali Fitialeata won’t want to see them repeat against a side which will most certainly punish them.

“I watched them play some of their first match and I got the impression that they didn’t show their hand,” he said.

“I think perhaps it wasn’t their best starters and they may have held some back for this second match against us.

“But we’ll prepare well for them.”

Peter Gunemba, coach of Papua New Guinea, holds New Caledonia in equally high esteem and believes it’s going to be one of the toughest challenges of the group against their hosts.

“The two most important games are our next two and in terms of New Caledonia, I believe they are a better team,” he said.

“In the 2015 Pacific Games I was there watching and New Caledonia was a very good football team and I expect them to repeat the same here.

“They will want to take revenge because we beat them one-nil in that game, and they will want to beat us, especially at home.”

The opening match of the day sees Tahiti take on Samoa in what is a must-win for both teams if they hope to keep their chances of a semi-final berth alive.

Tahiti impressed in their return to senior women’s football after a seven-year lay-off, showing impressive technique and some clear tactical nous.

Coach Stéphanie Spielmann has been working hard with this group over the past eight months and although the squad features some very young players, there is an element of experience in some of the older members. That proved crucial against New Caledonia as the side fell to a three-goal deficit in the first half, yet continued managing their game in order to get within a goal of equalising.

Although the unplanned exits of both goalscorers – Tahia Tamarii and Ninauea Hioe – due to injury will be of concern for Spielmann, but the 35-year-old is comfortable with the depth of her bench should cover be required.

However, she’s also determined to turn some of the opportunity and potential her side possesses into results.

“We’re staying positive. There are still two matches to go and we need to focus on that next match against Samoa straight away,” she explained.

“What I’ve done is try to explain that we’re in a competition and in a competition, you have to step it up. We play football well, there’s some really interesting elements in the team, but we have to fight.

“On the field, it’s the team that fights the hardest who will win. In our first match we were missing some of that combativeness, especially in the first half.

“We need to improve our game and introduce more of a fighting spirit into our game because we absolutely have to win the next match.”

Samoa had a tough introduction to the competition against Papua New Guinea, who showed they haven’t lost any of the technique or game understanding despite limited access to competitive football over the past couple of years.

Thanks to coach Nicola Demaine, currently undergoing the AFC A Licence process, the tactical approach was sound.

However, the difficulty was in the execution which at times showed the side’s inexperience and youth.

“There was some execution lacking in the tactic, which three weeks together of course they’re going to forget some things on the field. But they were able to step it up in the second half and that’s positive,” Demaine said.

The England-native said the approach now is to look at where the squad’s strengths were and build on those for their must-win against Tahiti.

“We’ll be looking at what we did well and what we can perhaps work on, we’ll also look at Tahiti’s game and come back with a new plan and hopefully turn it around a little bit.”


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