Tahiti comeback breaks PNG hearts
Tahiti are a step closer to the Oceania play-off final after a 3-1 comeback victory over a courageous ten-man Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.
A double from midfielder Sylvain Graglia helped Tahiti outlast the home side, who played a man short for well over an hour.
Both sides were without key personnel, with the home side missing two stars from last year’s OFC Nations Cup – captain David Muta and prolific goalscorer Raymond Gunemba – while Tahiti were unable to call on experienced brothers Jonathan and Lorenzo Tehau.
Hot conditions greeted players for the afternoon kick-off at Sir John Guise stadium in the PNG capital, where the two sides played out a 2-2 draw at the same venue last year during the Nations Cup.
PNG suffered a major blow midway through the first half when tricky attacker David Browne was sent off on his debut for an off-the-ball incident.
Despite a lack of goalmouth action in a stop-start first half, PNG managed to break the deadlock in injury time as Nigel Dabinyaba looped a long-range header over goalkeeper Mikael Roche from Alwin Komolong’s searching free-kick.
The second half commenced with far more cohesive football from both sides, resulting in goalmouth opportunities at either end.
Graglia drew his side level as the hour mark approached, converting from near the penalty spot, following a fine run down the left by the lively Teaonui Tehau.
To their credit PNG pushed forward at every opportunity despite their numerical disadvantage.
However, the home side’s resistance was finally broken five minutes from time as Graglia converted with a powerful left-foot strike inside the near-post following a lightening counter-attack.
Tehau added insurance with a comfortable back-post finish during injury time to lock up all three points for the visitors.
And things went from bad to worse for the home side with goalkeeper Ronald Warisan forced off in the final minute with a serious-looking leg injury.
The two teams will meet again on Tuesday in Papeete, where another defeat for PNG would represent the end of the road for the 2016 Nations Cup runners-up.