The OFC Champions League 2023 is now underway following the National Playoff first-leg fixtures in both Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia last night.
Hekari United FC and Tiga Sport will defend leads in next weekend’s deciding ties after edging out their respective opponents, Lae City FC and Hienghène Sport.
Hekari get payback
Papua New Guinea’s National Playoff was a repeat of last year’s fixture, as well as the National Conference Soccer League Grand Final from just seven days ago.
Both of those fixtures ended in Lae City victories but on this occasion, it is Hekari who are celebrating after a hard-fought triumph at Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium.
A tightly contested first half saw both sides have opportunities, Rex Naime’s dipping volley almost catching Ronald Warisan off guard. Meanwhile, the ever-threatening Albert Morgan’s attempt crawled off the post after a collision that saw Hekari’s starting stopper Dave Tomare carted off injured.
However, Morgan did not fail to take his next chance past goalkeeping replacement Christinus Biasu, side-foot volleying captain Emmanuel Simon’s cross to give Lae City the lead on the brink of half-time.
But Hekari came out swinging in the second half and were soon level through Joseph Joe’s rasping strike five minutes after the restart.
On the hour mark, the 2009-10 Oceania champions scored what may prove to be a crucial winner. Naime’s strike was too hot to handle for Warisan with Yagi Yagasa reacting fastest to tap into an empty net for the victory.
Hekari United FC 2 (Joseph JOE 50’, Rex NAIME 60’)
Lae City FC 1 (Albert MORGAN 45+5’)
Tiga roar past rivals
Recently crowned New Caledonia Super Ligue champions Tiga Sport hold a two-goal first-leg advantage over 2019 Oceania victors Hienghène Sport after a 3-1 win at Stade Numa Daly.
A pulsating start to the game saw the impressive Jean-Jacques Bearune’s effort creep past Jacques Nyikeine after just five minutes. That was soon cancelled out by Cedrick Sansot’s acrobatic close-range volley but Tiga’s advantage was then restored by Jimmy Welepane to make it 2-1 inside the opening 20.
Tiga had several chances to stretch their lead before the break and early in the second period, it looked as though they would be punished when referee Marius Gaicoin pointed to the penalty spot after Joël Wakanumune’s clumsy challenge.
However, the usually formidable Hienghène skipper Bertrand Kai saw his effort from 12 yards excellently stopped by Tiga ‘keeper Hnaloane Imeot.
Tiga then took full advantage of their goalie’s heroics, David Bearune curing home a third to ensure a more comfortable advantage for the return leg next week.
Hienghène Sport 1 (Cedrick SANSOT 12’)
Tiga Sport 3 (Jean-Jacques BEARUNE 5’, Jimmy WELEPANE 18’, David BEARUNE 61’)
Lae City FC (1) v Hekari United (2)
Saturday, February 18, 3.00pm local time.
Sir John Guise Stadium, Port Moresby.
Tiga Sport (3) v Hienghène Sport (1)
Saturday, February 18, 4.00pm local time.
Stade Numa Daly, Nouméa.
Click here to see how you can watch all the OFC Champions League 2023 National Playoff and Qualifying Stage fixtures.