An exciting weekend of action saw underdogs Gulf Komara claim the final playoff spot in the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League this Saturday, while Lae City did enough against Vitiaz United to hold onto their expected Minor Premiership, despite as Raymond Gunemba hat-trick earning Hekari United a 3-0 win over Tusbab Stallions.
Three teams were in contention for the final playoff spot, with FC Bougainville kicking off proceedings in Port Moresby against Morobe Wawens at 11am, knowing they would need to win and hope that neither Gulf Komara nor Tusbab Stallions won in their respective 1pm kick-offs. And the playoff hopefuls made a swift start to their match on nine minutes, with Basil Jofari swinging a cross in from the right wing. Following a fortuitous ricochet, Daniel Vetali was on hand to lash the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
Bougainville made it two just before the 20-minute mark after Elton Banem curled in a corner from the left side which evaded everyone and found its way directly into the back of the ne. This gave them a two-goal lead going into half-time.
Wawens hit back immediately after the restart after an innocuous-looking handball in the box was given as a penalty. Moses Kamakeng’s initial effort from the spot was saved, but he was able to pounce on the rebound and fire past Adrian Redenut in the Bougainville goal. The game became rather tense for much of the second half, with Bougainville trying to hold their lead and Wawens probing for an opening, and the two sided remained locked at 2-1 until the final ten minutes. A long ball forward in the direction of Bernard Purari led to Wawens’ goalkeeper Yalisan Michael rushing out, and Purari was brought down inside the box. After a lengthy break to deal with Purari’s injury, Daniel Vetali restored Bougainville’s two-goal lead with a well-taken penalty. Eaka Philemon put the icing in the cake with a late fourth.
So with Bougainville winning, both Tusbab Stallions and Gulf Komara knew that they would have to win to secure their place in the playoffs. Stallions were taking on Hekari United in Lae, while Gulf Komara were fortunate to have a game at ‘home’ against Star Mountain. And the two games went in completely opposite directions: an early goal from Golden Boot-chasing Raymond Gunemba put Hekari in front against Tusbab Stallions shortly before a wonderful individual effort from Pala Paul put Gulf Komara in front against Star Mountain after 25 minutes. By half-time Tusbab were another goal behind, while Komara retained their slim one-goal lead.
Things started to look very rosy for Gulf Komara as the second half wore on. Gunemba completed his hat-trick of goals against Stallions to all but end their playoff dreams, while Komara started to find their scoring boots. Rupa Emil crossed for Jordan Kaven to head in just after the hour mark, before a spree of goals in the final five minutes added the cherry on top: Numa Kila scored Komara’s third on 84 minutes, before Kaven was released by Kenneth Arah for his second goal, before completing his own hat-trick in injury time.
So Komara leapfrog defeated Tusbab Stallions to reach the playoffs, and will play Minor Premiers Lae City in the playoff semi-finals. Lae and third-placed Vitiaz United fought out a 0-0 draw in their final game of the season in Port Moresby, while Morobe United avoided the wooden spoon after a 3-2 victory against FC Kutubu in the final game in Lae. Lae’s draw meant that they earned the final point they needed to officially claim the Minor Premiership – although even a narrow defeat would have been enough for them thanks to their highly superior goal difference.
Next week’s playoffs will therefore see reigning five-time champions Lae City take on Gulf Komara in the first semi-final, while eight-time champions Hekari United will take on newcomers Vitiaz United in the second semi-final. Lae defeated Gulf Komara home and away in the regular season by an aggregate scoreline of 6-0, while Vitiaz and Hekari drew in both of their fixtures in the regular season, so their semi-final could well be a hugely interesting affair.