PORT MORESBY, (OFC) – Tahiti came back from a two goal deficit to force a draw with hosts Papua New Guinea while New Caledonia defeated Group A rivals Samoa 7-0 on Match Day 4 of the competition at Sir John Guise Stadium.
Trailing 2-0 and a man down after the dismissal of captain Nicolas Vallar, Tahiti’s title defence looked all but over with only 25 minutes to go in their match against Papua New Guinea.
But the French Polynesians staged an impressive comeback to ensure that the group remains wide open going into the final round.
Following an even contest for much of the opening 45 minutes the game exploded into action at the stroke of half-time when Raymond Gunemba pounced on a misdirected punch by Tahiti keeper Michael Roche to give Papua New Guiena the lead.
It went from bad to worse for the reigning champions six minutes after the restart with Vallar receiving a straight red card for a challenge on Gunemba.
Keen to capitalise on their numerical advantage Flemming Serritslev’s men poured forward putting Tahiti’s backline under sustained pressure.
They were rewarded for their attacking intent in the 64th minute courtesy of the lively and dangerous Gunemba who grabbed his second with a well taken shot inside the box following a neat backheel from Michael Foster.
However the hosts could only hold that goal cushion for two minutes before the Toa Aito pulled one back thanks to a close range header by Alvin Tehau.
They completed their comeback ten minutes later when Teaonui Tehau scored from inside the box as the PNG defence failed to clear an incoming corner.
Tahiti coach Ludovic Graugnard heaped praise on his players for their efforts.
I have to congratulate the boys, it took a lot of psychological and mental strength to come from two goals down. So I am very satisfied with what we managed to do on the field tonight,” Graugnard said.
“Ten against 11 is hard but despite that we did everything we could to try and win the match and coming from behind with a man down shows that we are tougher mentally than our adversaries.”
Meanwhile his PNG counterpart Flemming Serritslev was disappointed that the two goal lead slipped away.
“It’s too bad of us to let them come back and equalise when they were only ten men,” he said.
“We more-or-less stopped playing when we were 2-0 up instead of pressing and trying to crush them totally we went back into our own half.”
New Caledonia went into their match against Samoa knowing that their semi-finals fate could come down to goal difference, but also knowing that the Samoans would be no walkover.
It took Les Cagous close to 20 minutes to break down their resistance, with Roy Kayara’s well taken shot opening the scoring before Kevin Nemia doubled his side’s advantage ten minutes later.
Karaya grabbed his second and Cesar Zeoula made up for his penalty miss against Tahiti by converting from the spot to make it 4-0 going into the break.
After the restart Jean-Brice Wadriako tapped home before Joerisse Cexome passed the keeper with a low drive into the left corner.
With only one minute to go Jefferson Dahite added another from the penalty spot to set up the 7-0 final score.
It could have been worse for Samoa if it wasn’t for goalkeeper Faalavelave Matagi who produced a number of crucial saves to limit the damage.
New Caledonia coach Thierry Sardo said it was important for his side to record a big win against Samoa.
“We knew we needed to score more goals than Tahiti for the goal difference. Our first objective was to qualify for the next phase of the World Cup qualifiers. We’ve done that now and so we will focus on trying to progress to the semi-finals.”
Samoa coach Scott Easthope lamented his players’ lack of concentration especially in the first half.
“We have some mental lapses early in the game particularly in the first half and just get punished by sides who are being a lot more clinical than we are at the moment.”
The action at the 2016 OFC Nations Cup will continue on Saturday from 4pm local time when Fiji face Vanuatu before New Zealand’s clash with the Solomon Islands from 7pm at Port Moresby’s Sir John Guise Stadium.