Solomon Warriors forward Gagame Feni believes the backs-to-the-wall start his side made to the OFC Champions League in Tahiti only steeled their resolve as they approach an even bigger test – playing defending champions Auckland City away in a one-off quarter final.
The Solomon Islands champions were beaten 2-0 by Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star in the Group B opener in Papeete, leaving them will an uphill battle to qualify for the last eight.
But they bounced back with a resounding 5-1 win over New Caledonia’s AS Lossi – with Feni recording an accomplished hat trick before beating hosts and eventual group winners AS Dragon 2-1 in an enthralling clash to claim a quarterfinal place.
Feni says a lack of intel and match fitness put them on the back foot in that opening defeat but it spurred a renewed sense of commitment and belief to secure progression to the playoffs.
“The Erakor defeat was a turning point for us,” Feni says, “and it gave us a very strong mindset for the next games and I think we showed a lot of character to win those next two games. Hopefully we can bring that same mentality to the quarterfinal.”
Feni says the fact that Solomon Warriors draw their playing stock predominately from ex-Northern Malaitans now living in Honiara’s Fishing Village makes it more of a family complete with the strong bonds that the image conjures.
“We’re all a similar age and we’ve been together for a while now. The club is a village team so everyone comes from the area. It makes it interesting here and playing together with all my brothers gives me a big hope we can change the game when we come to Auckland.”
The fleet footed 25-year-old who finished his schooling in the New Zealand city of Nelson before a national league season each with Canterbury United and Auckland’s Waitakere United says his side will arrive in a good frame of mind having just won the TSL Championship, a pre-season knockout tournament in Honiara for all national league sides.
“Winning the TSL Championship has given us a bit of a boost. It’ll be a good game I think. We’re enjoying our football at the moment and we have a bit of confidence.”
Feni acknowledges a lot rests on how effective he and his strike partners Gibson Daudau and Kensi Tangis can be against an Auckland City side that is currently setting all sorts of records for not conceding.
“To be honest we just have to come and try to dismantle their passing and hopefully we can counter attack when we have time. We’ll try to hit them with the speed of our front three and we’re working hard on it.
“Auckland haven’t conceded in a long time and they have won the title for the last seven years so it’s obviously going to be a big challenge but we’re working hard in tiring and the coach is coming up with some ideas.”
“We play a similar a similar style to Auckland but maybe in the past there’s been a lack of confidence and concentration compared to the New Zealand sides.
“I think we can match them fitness wise and we can hold them and play the way we played in the group stage in Tahiti we can match them and get the result.”
Solomon Warriors play Auckland City FC amongst a busy weekend of OFC Champions League quarterfinal action. Their clash kicks off at 2pm on Sunday (NZT).