Watpore relishes return to spotlight

Fidelma Watpore of Papua New Guinea gets her fingertips to the ball during the penalty shootout. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / www.phototek.nz
Fidelma Watpore of Papua New Guinea gets her fingertips to the ball during the penalty shootout. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / www.phototek.nz

Fidelma Watpore made her debut for the Papua New Guinea women’s national team at the 2010 OFC Women’s Nations Cup against Tonga.

On Sunday she donned the gloves after a seven-year absence to once again dash Tonga’s hopes of progressing to their first FIFA Women’s World Cup, with two crucial saves in the penalty shootout sending Papua New Guinea through to the semi-finals.

It was a dream return to a role the 34-year-old has cherished.

Having waited in the wings for Linda Bunaga to retire, Watpore stepped up as first-choice keeper in 2014 earning the Golden Gloves for her efforts against Tonga, Cook Islands and New Zealand.

As she took to the field on Sunday, her thoughts returned to that tournament.

“I was nervous of course; it was my first match for this Nations Cup 2022. The last time I played in this competition was 2014 in Kokopo and I just wanted to try and make my mark,” Watpore said.

And make her mark she did.

“I’m the oldest in the team, I’m 34 now, and when coach put me in I just wanted to try my best to save goals and make the team go through to the semi-finals.

“When Tonga went two goals up I was worried, thinking they looked at me and thought I’m a big girl and maybe my time is up. But I was the Golden Glove in 2014, I felt it was up to me to go in and show them that I can play, I can still play.”

After competing in the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby and helping Papua New Guinea to their fourth consecutive gold medal, Watpore’s hiatus from football began as she gave birth to her first child, Rodney, followed by Isiah in 2020.

As the game went into extra-time, and then to the penalty shootout, Watpore drew inspiration from her children.

“I was looking at the players standing on the spot and thinking about where they can kick it. I kept my eyes on the ball and the player also, so I saw it when they moved, I could see it and I could save it.

“I saved the two penalty kicks for my children.”

As one of the senior members of the squad the Souths Hinamo goalkeeper is always trying to share her experience with her teammates, in particular fellow keepers Faith Kasiray and Betty Sam.

“My favourite things about this competition is that I can help the little ones become big and strong,” she said.

“I said this is my last time so I will encourage my junior ones to become strong like me, so I can leave the team in good hands.”

With a place in the final on the line, Watpore said the semi-final against Samoa will be no easy feat for the pre-tournament favourites.

“This is the hard part we are coming to and the Samoa team will never come easy for us. This time we’re going to stand on our feed and say ‘we can do it’.”

The Papua New Guinea goalkeepers (L-R): Faith Kasiray, GK coach Godfried Baniau, Fidelma Watpore and Betty Sam. Photo: Godfried Baniau.

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