Holders deny hosts as Samoa bow out

****Tahiti’s OFC Nations Cup title defence remains on course after a stirring comeback against Papua New Guinea, while New Caledonia also edged close to the semi-finals with a resounding 7-0 victory over Samoa. Roy Kayara was the star of the New Caledonian triumph against the now-eliminated Samoans, this after the Tehau cousins were both on target to inspire ten-man Tahiti to an unlikely 2-2 draw.

In a thrilling match – undoubtedly the best of the tournament so far – the holders battled back from a seemingly hopeless position: two goals down and having lost their captain to a red card.

Papua New Guinea had been good value for that 2-0 lead, having created the clearer opportunities in the opening 45, the best of which saw Raymond Gunemba shoot wastefully wide after being played clean through. The same player would make amends in first-half stoppage time though, sliding in to score from close range after Mikael Roche had flapped at a Jacob Sabua cross.

Gunemba was then involved once again six minutes into the second half as things went from bad to worse for Tahiti. The lively PNG No7 again looked to be breaking clear of the holders’ defence when skipper Nicolas Vallar brought him crashing to the ground and received his marching orders for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

A partisan home crowd were roaring their favourites forward at every opportunity at this stage and it looked certain that they would have a victory to celebrate when Gunemba scored a brilliant second, smashing home from a clever backheel by Michael Foster.

Tahiti refused to submit to the seemingly inevitable, though, and within two minutes they had halved the deficit through an opportunistic Alvin Tehau header. That set PNG nerves jangling and it was no surprised when the same player claimed an assist ten minutes later, heading a corner across goal for cousin Teaonui to beat the stranded Ronald Warisan.

After the drama of that opening match, the day’s second encounter was considerably more straightforward, with New Caledonia far too strong for Samoa. Kayara put them ahead in 18 minutes after a sustained period of early pressure, surging forward from midfield and driving home a low, left-foot shot.

That lead was doubled ten minutes later when Kevin Nemia showed nifty footwork before firing into the top corner, and New Caledonia moved out of sight on the half-hour mark when Kayara stole possession and curled in from 20 yards. Salt was then added to Samoan wounds when Cesar Zeoula slotted home from the penalty spot, this before second half goals from Jean-Brice Wadriako, Joerisse Cexome and Jefferson Dahite added further gloss to Thierry Sardo’s team’s win.

With Tahiti and New Caledonia on four points, winless Samoa are now out of the semi-final running. And while they could yet play their way into one of the section’s three FIFA World Cup™ qualifying slots by beating PNG, the tournament hosts – currently on two points – will start that concluding Group A fixture as firm favourites.

Results Papua New Guinea 2-2 Tahiti New Caledonia 7-0 Samoa

Next Up There is still all to play for in Group B, where sections leaders New Zealand will be hopeful of making it three wins from three when they face Solomon Islands. Fiji, meanwhile, sit joint-second with the Solomons on three points and will know that a win over Vanuatu should be enough to take them through to the last four.