|Tahiti's Teaonui Tehau celebrates Image: Phototek|
PNG and New Caledonia kicked off proceedings at Port Moresby's Sir John Guise Stadium in the opening Group B match of the competition.
Cesar Zeoula, Jean-Philippe Saiko and Roy Kayara were lively from the outset as the Caledonians asserted their dominance for the majority of the first half by controlling both ball possession and territory.
Papua New Guinea captain David Muta and Nigel Dabingyaba offered the home side some hope on the counter but most of their attempts have been stifled by the well organised New Caledonian defence.
PNG did well to stay in the game and their hard work was rewarded four minutes before the break courtesy of a cool finish from Tommy Semmy, who found himself one-on-one with the keeper following a sublime through pass from Emmanuel Simon.
However what could have been a heroic evening for Semmy in front of the home crowd turned sour when in the 79th minute the Hekari United striker was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Four minutes later the New Caledonians were back on level terms thanks to Jean-Phillippe Saiko who finished from a cross sent in by Jefferson Dahite.
Sensing blood, New Caledonia pressed on searching for a winner against their 10-men hosts and they were given a golden chance to snatch all three points in the 90th minute when the referee awarded a penalty for a foul inside the box by Raymond Gunemba.
Cesar Zeoula stepped up to take the kick which he smashed against the crossbar to the delight of the vocal home crowd.
PNG captain Muta was proud of his side after holding on for a draw.
“Of course a very good performance from the PNG boys, all of them. We fought really hard from start to the finish. New Caledonia was playing a really good game but the boys were playing hard in defence and we had some chances to bury them but then we went one man down and it was a bit hard to come back from,” said Muta after the game.
“The result was a 1-1 draw and we're pleased with the result. I give a lot of credit to the boys because they played their hearts out. Lastly I want to thank all of our supporters, the home crowd was great,” he continued.
Meanwhile his New Caledonian counterpart Bertrand Kai has admitted that his side had no reason to complain about the draw.
“I bit disappointed with the result, but we accept that we haven't done well in our first match. We knew it would be a hard game because we are playing the home side and they had the crowd with them. We missed a few good chances and that cost us but we at least we came back and got the draw.”
In the day’s other match Tahiti kicked off their title defence with a comfortable 4-0 win over Samoa.
It was a one-sided affair from the outset as Tahiti raced to a two goal lead inside the opening five minutes courtesy of a brace by Teaonui Tehau.
The Tahitians made it 3-0 in the 15th minute when Steevy Chong Hue rifled his shot into the top right corner from inside the box.
Alvin Tehau joined the party in the 36th minute with a cool finish off a slick pass from the lively Teaonui Tehau.
Tahiti coach Ludovic Graugnard made a double substitution at half-time as all intensity went out of the game.
The French Polynesians maintained a total control in the second half but they took their foot of the pedal.
Despite creating a number of opportunities to score they were unable to add to the first half tally as Samoa fought hard to keep the score respectable.
Graugnard wasn’t at all happy with his side’s second half performance.
“We know the first match is never easy in a competition like this especially against a side like Samoa which is physically strong. In the first half we played our game but I’m not very happy with the way we played in the second half, technically and physically.
“It’s a match where we really should have scored more but based on the second half performance we really need to work on several areas to reactivate our objectives.”
Meanwhile, Samoa coach Scott Easthope said it was a tough night for his players.
“It was a very nervous start by the boys and in the first half with the ball we were just not accurate enough to maintain possession, and if you give a good side a lot of possession they will do that to you.
“In the second half we made a bit of improvement possession wise but still, maybe they just didn’t take their chances well in the second half. Certainly for some of our boys this is a big jump, you can imagine the level required back in Samoa is a lot different from here, so some of our boys probably felt that in game one and we should be a lot better in game two.”
The action at the 2016 OFC Nations Cup will continue on Tuesday from 4pm local time when tournament favourites New Zealand face Vanuatu at Port Moresby’s Sir John Guise Stadium.
In the day’s second match Solomon Islands will meet Group B rival Fiji from 7pm.
Source: OFC Media