Tahitian champions AS Pirae have performed a minor miracle to draw with Ifira Black Bird 2-2 in front of a packed crowd in Group B of OFC Champions League 2023 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. (Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek).
Down to 10 men after 30 minutes, Ifira scored two goals – one in each half – to establish a two-goal lead, but the never-say-die AS Pirae team – with minimal substitutes and weary legs – scored goals in the 84th minute and the fifth minute of added time to break local hearts.
The first 25 minutes was frenzied, providing two game’s worth of highlight reels. An AS Pirae appeal for handball in the Ifira box was waved away by referee Anna-Marie Keighley, who was called on to deliver yellow cards to three AS Pirae players during that period. Three Ifira players would also go on to be yellow carded.
Ifira rued their inability to find free players with crosses and also had several shots blocked, causing collective anguish for the huge crowd in Freshwater Stadium, as well as those watching from nearby rooftops.
The sighs became howls after half an hour when giant Ifira defender Alphonse Lency was shown a straight red card for striking an opponent – totally unnecessary given his team was in the ascendancy and piling tremendous pressure on a Tahitian outfit with only three outfield substitutes.
The red didn’t put a stop to the highlights, with the 10-man home side leaving the crowd in raptures in the 43rd minute when the ever-dangerous John Thomas streaked down the right hand touchline and provided a pinpoint cross for John Wohale to head home from the far post.
The second half provided no let-up and after AS Pirae hit the woodwork Ifira broke from a melee on the right hand touchline in the 58th minute and once again, a superb cross found an attacking head, this time belonging to captain Samuel Kaloros.
The match then became a case of whether the weary eleven from Tahiti could match a 10-strong team that was constantly being refreshed with substitutes by Ifira coach Jean Robert Yelou.
In the end it was an AS Pirae replacement that proved to be the match-turner. Thibault Pito pulled one goal back in the 84th minute and then provided Arilura Labaste with a great assist to score and draw level.
All four Group B teams would have been on three points after two matches if not for the last-gasp winner.
AS Pirae are now in the box seat to make the semi-finals, with the final two group matches set to determine who will join them in the final four.
Ifira Black Bird: 2 (John WOHALE 43’, Samuel KALOROS 58’)
AS Pirae: 2 (Thibault PITO 84’, Arilura LABASTE 90’ + 5’)