Fiji and Papua New Guinea have convincingly made their way into the final of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2022.
Fiji hammered Samoa 3-1 while PNG was on fire scoring three past Samoa to win 3-0 at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva.
Fiji was back to its full squad after all players had been cleared of COVID and has seen its support from the home crowd grow.
Coach Lisa Cole’s biggest problem now seems to be choosing players not to play.
PNG were ruthless against Samoa, who are no pushovers themselves, but their pace and high press through the midfield paid off.
Fiji v Solomon islands
Fijian midfielder Cema Nasau’s first-half double and Luisa Tamanitoakula’s second-half finish secured the semi-final triumph for the Kulas, after Ileen Pegi’s penalty had given the Solomon Islands the lead.
Pegi scored from the spot after Maria Veronika’s high boot challenge felled Jemina David.
Trina Davis, just moments after dragging her own opportunity wide, delivered a pinpoint cross onto the head of Nasau who nodded the equaliser beyond Solomons goalkeeper Corrina Rotoava.
Nasau, one of the stars of the tournament so far, then gave Fiji the lead with a superbly taken second goal.
Koleta Likuculacula demonstrated excellent link-up play with the goalscorer before Nasau’s nimble footwork deceived her marker, giving her space to fire home and give Fiji the lead.
Diyalowai and Likuculacula had chances to stretch the host nation’s lead early in the second period while the Solomon Islands also came desperately close to levelling the score, Pegi’s long-range strike hitting the crossbar.
Fiji substitute Anasimeci Volitikoro snatched at two perfect chances before the Solomons again came close to equalising, this time David’s one-on-one effort well saved by the advancing Fiji goalkeeper Seruwaia Vasuitoga.
With the game now stretched, a chaotic moment between Rotoava and her defenders nearly gifted Fiji super-sub Tamanitoakula an open goal.
But she did not have to wait long for another chance as another moment of confusion at the back allowed Tamanitoakula to score Fiji’s third and ensure victory for the Kulas.
Fiji head coach Lisa Cole said it has always been a team effort.
“Really, everybody needs to give what they can, stay with the game plan, make sure they know their role, do their role well and make sure they keep their agreements,” she said.
“If we do those things well we are going to be a tough team to beat but we have also got to defend really well against a good Papua New Guinea squad.”
Solomon Islands head coach Batram Suri said he was proud that his island girls had made it so far through the tournament.
“It is a stepping stone for us now especially as a country that were bottom of the ranking. So I am proud of the result but not happy with it.”
PNG v Samoa
While Samoa were intent on playing out from the back, Papua New Guinea was happy to press them in midfield, continuously winning the ball as a consequence.
Early chances followed for PNG, Gunemba heading over and Samoa goalkeeper Ronisa Lipi making a sharp save from Sonia Embahe.
PNG remained the more threatening, Embahe missing from close range, Gunemba’s goalbound corner-kick forcing an acrobatic save from Lipi before Rayleen Bauelua whipped a long-range volley just wide of the post.
Eventually, PNG’s first-half pressure did pay off. Bauelua, as she did throughout the game, won possession in midfield before unleashing Ramona Padio, whose pass split the Samoa defence to allow Yanding a finish from close-range.
Gunemba, who scored a hat-trick in that 2018 meeting, repeated her trick from the quarter-final, as her corner-kick evaded two Samoa defenders and the goalie before nestling in the back of the net for 2-0.
Lipi was then called into action on two occasions, preventing Padio and then Gunemba, before Samoa were given a golden opportunity to claw their way back into the game.
PNG defender Lucy Maino fouled the pacey Sariah Taeaoalii in the box but PNG stopper Faith Kasiray saved Samoa skipper Monique Fischer’s spot-kick to maintain a two-goal advantage.
Any hope Samoa had of pulling off a comeback was then extinguished as Gunemba fired home a powerful strike from 25 yards.
Samoa head coach Paul Ifill said they would regroup and start preparing for the Pacific Games.
“Hopefully we have put Samoa on the map a little bit more than they were before and I think they have to got to be proud of themselves.”
Papua New Guinea head coach Nicola Demaine said they were in Fiji to make history.
“We will see if we can finish the job off,” she said.