For Papua New Guinea, the road to Russia 2018 has not been the smoothest of rides. Of the 11 countries affiliated in the Oceania region of FIFA’s seven confederations, Papua New Guinea is only beginning to make its presence felt.
The OFC Nations Cup, held a year ago in Port Moresby was the first time in over 12 years, that Papua New Guinea had played a home match.
Elevated by a fantastic, fanatic and boisterous home crowd, the National team came close to winning their first ever major trophy.
Amidst the elation of Gunemba’s goals, Dabinyaba’s pace, the silky skills of David Browne, or the cool head of Alwin Komolong, it has been the intelligence of Dane Flemming Serritslev, that has the confidence of the nation.
When the 70-year-old arrived in 2015, he’d had to work with a side that had had very little international game time. Apart from the Pacific Games, friendly matches were sporadic, a one-off novelty experience, that did little justice to Papua New Guinea’s aspirations for regional glory.
Serritslev changed all that. Instilling a new brand of football, embracing speed and vision, encapsulating the Melanesian knack for flamboyance, while drilling in a discipline that for years had dogged the national side’s outlook.
Under his tutelage and with the assistance of former PNG internationals Reginald Davani and Robert Popat, younger players were brought in, a new leadership group created, and a host of youth bled through the qualifying campaign. From those tentative first steps however, Flemming’s influence on the side is notable. This is the longest campaign that PNG has embarked on.
And it comes amid a contrasting turn of events that has both bogged and elevated Serritslev’s tenure to date.
A crucial turning point, the withdrawal of some of his best from the last campaign that saw him restructure and reshuffle, and the latest, the first award ever received by the national team. PNG will face Solomon Islands with a 2-1 record.
In their last meeting the semi-final of the OFC Nations Cup, a goal by Nigel Dabinyaba sealed their neighbours fate, and the Solomon’s will seeking vengeance at the Lawson Tama in Honiara.
But as Flemming Serritslev said memorably – Papua New Guinea has no fear.