Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star and host club AS Dragon made winning starts to their OFC Champions League campaigns, taking full advantage of ten-man opposition to notch respective 2-0 and 4-0 victories in Group B at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti on Sunday (local time).
A horrible mistake in the 63rd minute by Warriors goalkeeper Abraham Bird, who let the ball slips out of his grasp as he went to throw it then handled the ball outside his area to earn a red card, swung the opening game in the favour of Erakor after what had been a seesawing opening match to that point.
Barry Mansale curled a pinpoint free-kick past replacement custodian Jospeh Komu and before the Warriors players had time to take stock, Tony Kaltack had doubled the lead.
Kaltack had an effort chalked off for offside just 12 minutes into the match but the striker was not to be denied his sixth goal in four OFC Champions League matches at the venue after scoring in each of his side’s group matches last season.
At the other end, Serge Daniel was in fine form to keep the Solomon opposition at bay especially in the first half and Solomon Warriors coach Moses Toata rued the wasteful finishing before the dismissal changed the complexion of the match.
“The red card was the turning point in the match, Toata said, “but I’m very disappointed because we could’ve finished the game in the first half. We had three clear goal scoring opportunities and we wasted them.”
“We must give credit to Erakor’s goalkeeper. He saved a number of our chances. We lost the game because of a bad mistake from the goalkeeper.”
Erakor coach Obed Jimmy was pleased to take all three points and with the confidence it now gives them heading into Wednesday’s top of the table clash with AS Dragon.
“I’m very proud of my boys and of the result. Two nil is a huge result for us,” Jimmy said.
“It’s always important to start well. It’s great motivation for the boys. We believe we can keep winning in the next game.”
In the evening match kickoff, the dismissal of Lossi defender Warren Saiko for his foul on Tamatoa Teatauira in the 20th minute threatened to end the game as a contest but Lossi reorganised and not only kept Dragon out but created some of their best chances of the match
Jonathan Kakou thought he had given the Noumea club a 33rd minute lead only for his effort to be ruled out for offside and then hit corssbar with another effort.
With Dragon’s veteran and influential striker Marama Vahirua limping off just before halftime, Lossi must have sniffed a chance to claim a famous upset but the hosts came out of the dressing room with renewed vigour and took just two minutes to grab the lead through Teatauira’s back post header.
The captain would add another in the 78th minute, sandwiching a well-taken goal by Reynald Lemaitre. Rainui Tze-Yu completed the rout in injury time with Dragon’s fourth goal.
“To be honest we had a bit of a problem in the first half where Lossi was attacking more than us and I put two centre backs in,” admitted AS Dragon coach Timiona Asen.
“When they went down to ten, I put two attacking midfielders in and one central defender and that’s when we started to have more chances.”
“They said in the press conference that they came here to compete and we said we wouldn’t give up either. I told the team we have 90 minutes to play and we made the difference only in the second half.”
Asen also played down the injury to Vahirua.
“The injury to Marama isn’t too bad. He’s old now so it’s like that. He’ll be there Wednesday.”
AS Lossi coach Victor Weijeme praised his side’s ability to stay in the game despite the red card and disallowed goal but said eventually Dragon were able to capitalise on the extra man.
“At half time I readjusted a couple of things and told my players the best strategy was to wait for our opponents. But Dragon profited from all the spaces between the lines on our left side following our left back’ sending off. There was a boulevard on our left side and they managed to score before we fixed the problem, it was too late. This is football!”
“I am happy with my players, they played well, it’s a pity we had that scenario. The pitch was soggy today and it will have an impact on the players bodies. Today I’m happy with what my men did and it’s now time to move on.
“We’ll now go back to our hotel, forget this match and recover because the next two games will determine if we qualify.”
Group B of the 2018 OFC Champions League continues on Wednesday (local time) when Solomon Warriors and AS Lossi meet in a must win clash followed by AS Dragon and Erakor Golden Star chasing a chance to potentially book a quarterfinal place.