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Women’s football fires up

Competing in Group A are New Caledonia, Tonga, Samoa and Solomon Islands while just three sides make up Group B; 2011 gold medal winners and host Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Cook Islands.# As well as Pacific Games glory also on the line for six of these sides is a spot in Stage 2 Olympic Qualifying – and a showdown with regional heavyweights New Zealand, fresh back from competing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.# With so much to play for, the opening day of competition will be a fierce one. Proceedings will be opened by an encounter between Solomon Islands and 2011 runners-up New Caledonia at 10.30am. This will be followed by Tonga versus Samoa before the final match of the day plays out between Fiji and Papua New Guinea.#Both Solomon Islands and New Caledonia have been dormant on the international scene since 2011 when they also opened their campaigns against each other. New Caledonia won that encounter 3-0 and coach Kamali Fitialeata is confident his side can repeat that performance this time around. Several players have joined the squad from abroad, France and New Zealand, and they will surely provide some much needed experience. Christelle Wahnawe was top goal scorer in 2011 with five to her name – a prize she will no doubt be pleased to get her hands on once again.#Both countries have held women’s leagues on and off over the past four years with Solomon Islands slowly developing women’s football in an effort to give it the same reputation the men’s game enjoys around the nation. Coach Luke Eroi will have his work cut out for him against a Caledonian side keen to make their name on this competition.#Old foes Tonga and Samoa will play at 12.45pm in what will surely be a physical and determined encounter for both teams. Samoa didn’t turn out in 2011, nor did they participate in the 2014 Women’s Nations Cup here in Papua New Guinea. Coach Tala Salamasina has assembled a mix of local and overseas players to assist him and has eyes on making the semi-finals.# Tonga have had an incredibly active women’s international programme over the past few years. They scored the first goal in a long time against New Zealand and the U-20 Women’s Championship and performed valiantly in Kokopo during the Women’s Nations Cup. Lui Muavesi has a tough task ahead, but with stalwarts like Penateti Feke, Lupe Likiliki and Vea Funaki in the squad he will be expecting some match winning performances.#The final encounter will see Fiji take on Papua New Guinea and given the hosts high-achieving efforts in the past local fans are expected to turn out in their droves to support the side.# Fiji topped their group four years ago in this same tournament and went on to face the eventual winners in the semi-finals. They lost 4-0, but came back strong against Tonga to secure third place with a 1-0 victory. Coach Charlene Lockington has had a chance to reflect on that campaign and will be looking to improve on that finish.#Coach Gary Phillips has been in charge of Papua New Guinea since before the Women’s Nations Cup, giving him time to assess the nation’s players and pick the best squad to defend the Pacific Games title on home soil. The experience of Deslyn Siniu, appearing in her fourth Pacific Games, and Dorcas Sesevo will be key, while new blood in the form of Meagen Gunemba and Carolyn Obi will inject some exciting talent into the match.

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