No matter what the result of this evening’s final at HFC Bank Stadium between Fiji and Papua New Guinea is, OFC Women’s Nations Cup history will be made.
With the six-times winners New Zealand absent due to their direct entry to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 as co-hosts with Australia, the teams taking part in the 12th edition of this tournament have always known the chance of being crowned regional champions are higher than ever before. And in turn, the investment in preparations has been higher than ever before too.
Papua New Guinea are known as the ‘Queens of the Pacific’ after winning all five gold medals at the Pacific Games since women’s football was introduced, however when the two nations met four years ago in New Caledonia, it was Fiji who won convincingly with a 5-1 victory on that occasion.
As hosts, and with bigger crowds backing them than they’ve ever experienced, Fiji look to have an advantage. However, Papua New Guinea coach Nicola Demaine was in charge of Samoa when they hosted the 2019 Pacific Games and said it can apply added pressure to an already tough assignment.
“Being the host nation, I think there’s an added pressure there which I’m hoping will work to our advantage,” the former OFC Women’s Football Development Officer said.
“Sure, there’s expectations on PNG given our ranking and history, but Fiji there’s expectations from the country here, they came second at the last Women’s Nations Cup and they’ll be expected to then come first with New Zealand not being there. So, I’m hoping that’s a bit of pressure on the Fijian players.”
Both sides have experienced bumps along the road to the final. Fiji were held to a 1-1 draw by Solomon Islands in the group stage, while PNG were taken to extra-time and penalties by a determined Tongan side in the quarter-finals.
Demaine said while taking the path of least resistance is obviously the preferred option, that’s not always the way sport, or football, works.
“It’s been a journey for sure. Obviously, you’d love to turn up for game one absolutely ready for game five, but the amount of time you have together with Covid and other restrictions you have to progress as you go through and there has been some really good learnings.”
Fiji coach Lisa Cole said that over the course of the tournament, she’s been impressed with the resilience of the team, with each of them rising to the challenge.
“You can’t say enough about Cema’s (Nasau) performances, Sofi’s (Diyalowai) come up with the goals. You look at our backline, they’ve been tremendous and our young goalkeeper Seruwaia (Vasuitoga) has been outstanding.
Fiji has conceded just three goals in the competition, all three from the penalty spot. Cole said while the position of goalkeeper had been a concern coming into the competition, 19-year-old Seruwaia Vasuitoga has really stepped up.
“Seruwaia had been a bit injured in the lead up and to be so young and asked to play in this big of an event is a huge ask. She’s handled it well and our goalkeeper coach (Lice Waqailiti) has kept her calm and composed, we’ve been really impressed with her performance.”
For Fiji, the performances and the results they’re achieving are down to a desire to play for themselves and their families.
“They put a lot of emphasis on representing God, and they’re getting to play at home and represent Fiji so there’s so many good things they should be contributing to their success.
“In order to achieve something, you have to believe it can happen. The first step is to believe in yourself, have the team believe in themselves. The truth is we put in the work.
“The work that they have done over the course of the last six months has gotten them to this point.”
The final between Papua New Guinea and Fiji will kick off at HFC Bank Stadium in Suva, Fiji at 7pm.
The Third Place Play-Off between Samoa and Solomon Islands will get underway at 4pm (FJT).
Papua New Guinea
3x OFC Women’s Nations Cup Runners-Up
8x OFC Women’s Nations Cup Podium Finish
Biggest Win: 9-0 vs. American Samoa in 1998
Biggest Defeat: 0-16 vs. New Zealand in 1991
Most goals scored by a player in a single match: 5, Marie Kaipu vs. New Caledonia in 2018
1x OFC Women’s Nations Cup Runners-Up
1x OFC Women’s Nations Cup Podium Finish
Biggest Win: 12-0 vs. Tonga in 2018
Biggest Defeat: 0-17 vs. Australia in 1998
Most goals scored by a player in a single match: 4, Luisa Tamanitoakula vs. Tonga in 2018
Head-to-Head: Papua New Guinea vs. Fiji
OFC Women’s Nations Cup: 2-0-1
Pacific Games: 3-0-1