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Debutants in driver’s seat after Group A openers

Galaxy FC striker Kensi Tangis celebrates his goal against Hienghene Sport (Phototek)

OFC Champions League newcomers Galaxy FC and Eastern Suburbs AFC have opened their maiden Oceania campaigns with victories on Sunday’s opening match day  at Port Moresby’s Sir John Guise Stadium.

Vanuatu’s Galaxy FC sent out warning signs to their rivals by brushing aside defending champions Hienghene Sport while New Zealand tournament debutants Eastern Suburbs edged past local favourites and 2010 champions Hekari United.

Galaxy FC 4-1 Hienghene Sport

Despite the impressive credentials of their highly fancied opponents, Batram Suri’s Galaxy FC started brightly before taking a surprise but well deserved lead courtesy of Roberson Dos Santos Ribiero, who showed good composure to finish from close range following some good build-up play by Gagame Feni on the left.

Following his assist, Feni added his name to the scoresheet just after the half-hour mark, doubling his side’s advantage.

With a huge upset on the cards, the New Caledonians pushed forward searching for a way back into the contest as Bertrand Kai threatened with a couple of attempts and Amy Antione Roine’s well struck drive bounced back off the post.

Hienghene were presented with a golden opportunity to a pull a goal back when the referee pointed to the penalty spot in the 61st minute, but skipper Bertrand Kai wasted the chance by blasting his spot-kick attempt well over the crossbar.

Felix Tagawa’s men did manage to put the ball into the net, but the offside flag went off and they were punished at the other by a superb finish from Terence Carter with only ten minutes on the clock.

Joseph Athale finally gave the team from New Caledonia’s North Province something to cheer about by converting his side’s second penalty chance, but the day belonged to Galaxy FC as they fittingly sealed the win with a brilliant individual goal by Kensi Tangis in injury time.

Proud Galaxy coach Batran Suri couldn’t hide his delight after the win.

“It was a big performance from us against the champions. After every goal we scored we grew in confidence and we were happy that our game plan and strategy was working. We have some great finishers and it was pleasing to see that we could record a deserved win against a big team” the Galaxy coach enthused.

His counterpart from New Caledonia was visibly disappointed with the result.

“The early kick-off didn’t suit my team, we looked sluggish and disorganised and we fell behind. We started to chase the game and Galaxy took advantage of our mistakes. We did create good opportunities but we missed them, we missed a penalty and there was a close offside call on another goal. It wasn’t our day,” lamented Felix Tagawa.

Eastern Suburbs 2-1 Hekari United

A big and expectant crowd turned up at Sir John Guise Stadium to cheer on Papua New Guinea giants Hekari United in their first Champions League outing since 2016.

But the sizeable support didn’t seem to intimidate New Zealand hopefuls Eastern Suburbs who raced to a 1-nil lead thanks to Martin Bueno, who positioned himself neatly to tap into the empty net from close range at the end of a sweeping move.

Both sides created good opportunities in an absorbing contest before Hekari found a way to level the scores a minute before the half-time break courtesy of Kolu Kepo’s brilliant looping finish over Danyon Drake.

Local celebrations were cut short however, and the visitors were back in front almost immediately with Bueno grabbing his and the Kiwis’ second.

The turning point of the match came in the 53rd minute when Hekari’s David Muta received his marching orders from the referee for a second bookable offence.

Although Jerry Allen’s troops fought bravely with a man down, the sending off took the sting out of the match and allowed Eastern Suburbs to control the tempo of the match as they held onto a hard-fought win.

Eastern Suburbs coach Tony Reading was relieved after the final whistle.

“We knew it was going to be tough so we weren’t surprised, but we are pleased we got the result.  There were elements of the game that were very good today, our defending, our work rate, our structure, but there are bits of our game we know we can do better. Yes we do want to fight but we also want to be able to control the game better and that’s what we are looking to improve on in the next game,” explained the victorious coach.

Meanwhie Jerry Allen was left to rue the sending off that proved to be a bridge too far for his team to cross.

“The red card was the turning point, it really cost us today. We showed good spirit to fight back when we were 1-nil down and even with ten men we fought hard, we pressed high and put them under pressure, but at the end it wasn’t enough. It’s disappointing and a bad start for us,” said the Hekari coach.

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