[Source: Oceania Football Confederation / Facebook]
The Fiji Kulas avenged their Pacific Games final loss to Papua New Guinea in Honiara last year with a drama-filled 4-3 victory in their Group A encounter in Apia.
The Kulas were dominant from the outset but had to withstand a late second-half fightback from Eric Komeng’s side.
The win means Fiji are through to the semi-finals while Papua New Guinea will need to beat American Samoa by a big margin and hope Fiji account for the Solomon Islands on Tuesday, to edge the Solomons on goal difference to make the last four.
Early strikes from Sofi Diyalowai and Narieta Leba rocked Papua New Guinea who were overrun in midfield and under constant pressure at the back.
Komeng had made a couple of changes to his lineup from the side which drew 1-1 with the Solomon Islands with Christie Maneu and Mavis Singara shoring up the midfield. But they were unable to gain control against a physical Fijian side who were crisper and more accurate with their passing and movement.
Marie Kaipu tried to lead from the front as captain for PNG and made some dangerous runs, but it was fellow striker Keren Kalapai who got her side back in the game with a lovely finish after rounding the advancing Mereseini Waqali in the Fiji goal.
A couple of minutes before the break Fiji had restored its two-goal cushion when Leba headed in her second from a freekick.
She had her hattrick from the penalty spot in the 61st minute, after Diyalowai had her penalty attempt saved by Faith Kasiray in the PNG goal. However Kaipu brought down Leba after the rebound and she made no mistake from the spot.
Trailing 4-1 PNG looked to be down and out, but the Pacific Games champions rallied. First Kalapai scored her second from a shot on an acute angle and two minutes later Calista Maneo fired a superb shot past Waqali from outside the box.
Diyalowai should have made it five for Fiji late on but her shot one on one was blocked by Kasiray and Fiji held on for a deserved victory.