Papua New Guinea’s U23 team are eager to go when the Olympic Qualifiers kick off in Fiji on Saturday 21st October at 12 Fiji time. Gimale Essacu thinks a successful campaign could change the view of the game in the country.
“If we could manage to qualify I think football will finally be back on the rise to how it was when PNG made a run in the OFC Men’s tournament,” Essacu tells Football in Oceania, pointing to the time PNG came within a penalty shootout of winning the OFC Nations Cup in 2016.
“I think it would give an enormous boost to our nation as a whole, mainly because no team sport has ever qualified for the Olympic Games.”
However, Essacu says getting out of the group stages will be a big win. And then, anything could happen.
“I believe that the goals for this year’s U23 team will be to push to get out of the group stages and see what happens. Football’s a crazy game so you really never know, especially once we get out of the group stages.”
The midfielder is following in the footsteps of the Komolong brothers, Alwin and Felix, studying in the United States and playing football at the college level. His background is varied, having grown up in PNG, New Zealand and Australia.
“Football for me got serious when I was in Australia playing in the National Premier League in Canberra, Australia. After that, I decided to go on to play college soccer in the US for NCAA Division 1 school Western Illinois University. I think the best way to describe me as a player would be that I always look to create and I’m a very unselfish passer. I always look to play the safest and most correct passes, whether it be the simple or hard pass, to benefit the team,” Essacu explains.
While Felix Komolong is in the squad, it’s his brother, Alwin, Essacu has the closest bonds to. Essacu says he would like to follow in his footsteps and go professional abroad, once his college days are over. Preferably in the US, but Europe, like Alwin, could be an option too.
“Yeah, Alwin is like an older brother to me so I take his advice a lot with what to do once I’m done playing college soccer in December. Especially because he also went to a division 1 college in the US (Northern Kentucky, ed.) and knows what it’s like. But for me, I’m definitely looking to stay in the US as my first option for clubs, then, if there are no other options, that (Europe), could potentially play its part.
“But with football, you never know what will happen, so I’m taking it week by week and just looking to perform every time I play,” Essacu says.
PNG play their first game against Vanuatu on Sunday 22 september, at 12 local Fiji time.
The groups for the Olympic Qualifiers:
Group A: American Samoa, New Zealand, Samoa, Solomon Islands.
Group B: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu.
Group A: Solomon Islands – American Samoa (21 September, 12:00 local time); Samoa – New Zealand (21 September, 15:00 local time).
Group B: Vanuatu – Papua New Guinea (22 September, 12:00 local time); Tonga – Fiji (22 September, 15:00 local time).
PS: Tahiti and New Caledonia do not participate as they are French overseas territories and part of the French Olympic Committee. The Cook Islands will not participate either.