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PNG, Vanuatu Fiji record wins

 Hosts Fiji got the 20th edition of the OFC U-20 Championship underway in flying Fijian fashion with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over fledgling side American Samoa at ANZ Stadium in Suva yesterday.

Vanuatu followed suit in the second match earning a hard-fought 1-0 win over neighbours New Caledonia before Papua New Guinea knocked two goals past Solomon Islands for an opening victory of their own.

While Fiji are blessed with home advantage, the side is also having to deal with the weight of expectation as the winner of this competition will qualify for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

The evening’s final encounter was a tough one to call as Papua New Guinea had struggled in a pre-tournament encounter with the New Zealand U-20 team, while Solomon Islands, a nation brimming with talent, arrived with a squad of relative unknowns.

Getting an early win was essential for this encounter according to Papua New Guinea assistant coach Reggie Davani, who was ecstatic the players could pull it off. "The boys worked hard and they were fortunate there to get the win in the end," he said.

The Solomon Islanders made an early foray into the Papua New Guinea area with Joachim Kari and Dunstan Quantifier looking incredibly dangerous on the advance. However, Papua New Guinea showed they learned a valuable lesson in their encounter with the Kiwis as they took the lead just 10 minutes in. Papalau Awele got behind a free kick just outside the penalty area, it deflected up over the wall before falling for Ayrton Yagas to head past Solomon Islands keeper Phillip Mango.

The goal seemed to invigorate the Papua New Guinea side as they started venturing deeper into the Solomon Islanders half. Though that approach left them vulnerable in the back they were fortunate their counterparts couldn’t capitalise.

A double substitution for Papua New Guinea at half-time saw Janel Cambial and Peter Dabinyaba replaced by Steven Inia and Isaac Lalo, a decision that paid dividends. From another dead ball situation Papua New Guinea extended their lead as Maya Bob lofted the ball in over the outstretched fingertips of Mango.

Solomon Islands continued to excite with their on-ball talents and had a wealth of shots on goal, but the finishing continued to elude them despite some valiant efforts which really tested Papua New Guinea’s Vagi Koniel in goal.

The final minutes of the match were fraught as Solomon Islands chased down an elusive goal, while Papua New Guinea battled to keep their lead.

With both of their goals coming from set-pieces Davani was pleased to see the hard work they’d put into those paying off.

"It’s something we’ve been working on in both attack and defence and we were lucky with the second one but we’ll take it."
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