Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Auckland United secured passage to the OFC Women’s Champions League semi-finals this afternoon in an exercise of patience in energy-sapping conditions in Honiara.

The New Zealand champions, who just needed a point today to confirm their place in the last four, took this game as the opportunity to give their wider squad some minutes. Head Coach Ben Bate made six changes to United’s starting XI that beat AS Academy Féminine 5-0.

A trio of 15 year olds in Pia Vlok (who has started every game), Piper O’Neill and Kara McGillivray lined up for the Kiwis, whilst hat-trick hero Rene Wasi led the side out with captain Talisha Green rested. Ofaloto La’Akulu wore Veitongo’s armband today instead of Meleseini Tufui.

Auckland United spent much of the opening quarter of an hour camped out in Veitongo’s half without seriously threatening the Tongan side, as the new-look starting XI felt their way into the match, trying to work a way through Veitongo’s low block. 

Wasi, playing in a more withdrawn role on Auckland United’s right hand side, came close to breaking the deadlock in the 27th minute, latching onto a bouncing ball in the penalty area, but the excellent Madison Tenifa was alert to put the ball out for a corner.

Auckland did find their breakthrough via Poppy O’Brien, who was alert and aware to pick up the scraps and bury the ball into the back of the net off the resultant corner just before the half hour mark.

Vlok came close to adding a second for Auckland shortly after the restart, gathering the ball down the right and dancing past several Veitongo defenders before shooting from a tight angle, with her strike cannoning off the upright.

The well-marshalled Veitongo backline, organised by La’Akulu and anchored by an increasingly vocal and commanding Tenifa, frustrated the Aucklanders, who would have come into this match on a high from their impressive victory over last year’s Champions League winners, AS Academy Féminine.

They continued to search for a spark that would put the game beyond doubt, as Wasi fed Charlotte Roche, whose clever movement split the defenders well, but she misjudged her shooting angles, putting the ball wide.

While Bate turned to his bench in an effort to find another goal to make the result sure, bringing on Green, Yume Harashima, Bree Johnson, Danielle Canham and Penny Brill, Veitongo’s defence held strong to secure their best result of the tournament. 

The 1-0 win for United has guaranteed semi-final status, with the outcome of today’s second Group B match between Labasa Women FC and AS Academy Féminine determining whether the New Zealanders will play Hekari United FC or Tafea FC next week

Auckland United: 1 (Poppy O’Brien 29’)
Veitongo FC: 0

HT: 1-0