There were no shortage of surprises in the opening weekend of the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League this weekend, despite the two former champions Hekari United and Lae City getting their campaigns started with victories. But it was the brand new sides that sprung the shocks this week, with FC Kutubu and Vitiaz United both showing they’ll be no pushovers.
The most goals were scored in the first fixture of the day between Gulf Komara and FC Bougainville. With a slightly earlier kick-off time of 1pm on Saturday, all focus was on these two sides to produce a pulsating opening fixture of the 2019/20 season. And they did not disappoint.
With the match taking place in the PNG Football Stadium in Port Moresby, the match was technically a home game for both sides. However, Gulf Komara were drawn as the home team against FC Bougainville, but it was the Bougainvilleans who got off to the perfect start, opening up a two-goal advantage through Jonathan Allen and Daniel Vetali.
Komara pulled one back just before half-time thanks to Pala Paul, but Bougainville continued to press after the break, with their relentless pressure eventually leading to a mistake by Komara’s Kila Gapi, who sent the ball into his own net on 55 minutes. Bougainville were able to hold on to their two-goal lead until the dying minutes, when Kenneth Arah put in a consolation goal for the home side, but it wasn’t enough to deny FC Bougainville an opening-day victory.
The remaining four fixtures all kicked off at 3pm in four different cities, so it was excellent to have football taking place at the highest level in Papua New Guinea once again. In Port Moresby, Hekari United hosted Star Mountain, and the visitors did nothing to suggest they wouldn’t struggle in a highly competitive league this season. Goals from Daniel Joe, Kolu Kepo and Vanya Malagian saw the eight-time champions soar to the top of the league table, condemning Star Mountain to the very bottom.
At the Laiwaden Oval in Madang, reigning champions Lae City took the short trip to take on Tusbab Stallions in what looked on paper to be something of a mismatch: the last time these two sides met, Lae won 6-0. However, the Stallions, bolstered by the arrival of newly-elected captain Nigel Malagian, fought bravely, and only succumbed when Stahl Gubag handled the ball in the penalty area in the last five minutes of the game, and Lae’s Mosie Milubwa stepped up to dispatch the resulting spot-kick.
FC Kutubu, one of the two debuting sides, enjoyed a home draw this weekend, and welcomed Morobe Wawens, a side with OFC Champions League experience, to the National Sports Institute in Goroka. In a closely-fought contest, a single goal from Kutubu’s Andrew Apo separated the two sides, gifting Kutubu the perfect start to their debut season, while underlining the work that Morobe Wawens still have to do in order to reach the levels they achieved when they finished second in 2018.
And at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Morobe, debutants Vitiaz United pulled off perhaps the shock of the weekend with a stunning 2-1 victory at veterans Morobe United. However, given the wealth of talent at the new franchise that came directly from Morobe United, perhaps a victory was not so much of a shock. The likes of Eliud Fugre, Russell Nirik, Max Efale, Yagi Yasasa and Joshua Talau have all made the move over to Vitiaz United for this season. A goal from captain Fugre and a Nirik finish was enough for the visitors to pick up a priceless victory, while Giwi Simon scored a consolation for Morobe United.
Gulf Komara 2-3 FC Bougainville
Tusbab Stallions 0-1 Lae City
Morobe United 1-2 Vitiaz United
FC Kutubu 1-0 Morobe Wawens
Hekari United 3-0 Star Mountain