Group leaders Lae City and group hosts Malampa Revivors will take each other on in crucial Group B clash, with everything on the line for both sides.
After Lae’s astonishing 7-0 victory over Lautoka in the second group match, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Papua New Guinea side’s work is already done: they’re top of Group B by two clear points and have a huge goal tally of ten goals from just two games. However, it could still go all wrong if the home crowd inspires Malampa Revivors to their first victory of the tournament in this decisive match.
Lae will be brimming with confidence after their demolition of Lautoka, and Emmanuel Simon, the leading top goalscorer in the competition with four goals, will be hoping to add to his tally against his Vanuatuan opponents. Star striker Raymond Gunemba has three in two games, and he’ll also be chasing goals to further his chances of grabbing the Golden Boot at the end of the tournament.
After the successful reshuffle of the squad against Lautoka, expect coach Peter Gunemba to stick with more-or-less the same team that started that game, although a potential weakness might be the makeshift full-back pairing of Emmanuel Airem and Joshua Oscar, who will undoubtedly provide attacking options but weren’t really tested in defence against a poor Lautoka side.
Malampa Revivors have shown signs of promise in their opening two fixtures as well, however. In their opening match, they held out for a 1-1 draw against Lautoka despite playing two-thirds of the match with ten men after Andre Batick was sent off in the 35th minute. And, they then showed grit and resilience to comeback from 2-1 down against Henderson Eels on Tuesday, having gone a goal behind with just ten minutes to go before super-sub Armando Ravo scored a magical equaliser.
Defensively they have looked relatively solid, and Lae certainly won’t find it as easy to penetrate the back line as they did against Lautoka. They may not have a star player in the squad, but they are perhaps the best ‘team’ in the group, not reliant on one or two men to lead the line, but rather focusing on togetherness, teamwork and strength in number. They will not be easy to beat.
After Henderson Eels’ win against Lautoka, both sides know exactly what they need to do to qualify. For Lae, a draw will be enough to go through as group winners, while Malampa must win, and if they do, then they will eliminate Lae City in the process.