Photo Credit: PNG FA
Hekari United are in pole position to qualify for the OFC Men’s Champions League 2024 following a convincing 2-0 victory over Port Moresby Strikers at the PNG Football Stadium.
Despite being the nominal away side in the first leg, Premier Soccer League champions Hekari United dominated the match throughout and were rewarded with goals in the second half from Ati Kepo and Yagi Yasasa that secured the crucial win.
Hekari United looked the more settled side in the opening ten minutes, showing more attacking intent and drawing fouls from Strikers, with brothers Ati and Kolu Kepo driving at their defence and getting shots on goal. Largely limited counter-attacks, Strikers were let down by poor ball control when they did find space.
As the half went on, Hekari continued to control proceedings. A superb lunging challenge from Arol Tateng prevented Ati Kepo getting one-on-one with Strikers keeper Vagi Koniel, who also made a good save to his right after left-back Godfrey Haro shot at goal. Strikers struggled to hold onto the ball, continuing to give away free kicks and corners. Surrounded by orange shirts, Kolu Kepo shot just wide of goal as the half wore on.
The away side upped the intensity and began to pepper the home penalty area with crosses and shots. After slipping through two defenders, Haro should have scored but his effort was well anticipated by Koniel. Strikers attempts to turn the tide excited the crowd as half time loomed, with Mathew David giving Hekari goalkeeper Dave Tomare cause for concern, but execution was lacking.
After failing to capitalise on their first half dominance, Hekari United began the second half strongly, with Oberth Simon, Kolu Kepo and Yasasa all getting shots on goal. Through on goal, substitute Simon was thwarted by a brave Koniel who came out quickly and nicked the ball from him – the Strikers keeper was keeping his team in the tie.
Finally in the 60th minute, Hekari broke through. An excellent corner from Yasasa flew to the far post where Ati Kepo made no mistake, heading into the bottom left corner to open the scoring. Eleven minutes later the roles were reversed, with Ati Kepo teeing up Yasasa, who powered a fantastic driven shot into the right corner, doubling his side’s lead.
In a tough position in the two-legged tie, Strikers showed more attacking intent through Eaka Philemon as the final ten minutes arrived, however the organised Hekari defence ensured they remained largely untroubled.
The likes of Joseph Joe and Yasasa still showed promise for a Hekari side looking to extend the lead and put the tie beyond Strikers.. Late chances came at both ends, with Michael Foster heading just wide for Strikers but no more goals were forthcoming.
The teams will meet again on February 17 at the PNG Football Stadium, with Hekari United looking to defend their well-earned two goal lead.
The winner will join representatives of Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Zealand in Group A of the OFC Men’s Champions League 2024 following their respective National Playoffs.
Port Moresby Strikers: 0
Hekari United: 2 (Ati KEPO 60’, Yagi YASASA 71’)