Photo Credit: OFC Media via PNG FA

Hekari United FC have secured their place in the OFC Men’s Champions League after a strong 3-0 victory over Port Moresby Strikers FC in the second leg of the National Playoff in Papua New Guinea.

Hekari came into the tie with the upper hand, having won 2-0 in the first leg last weekend and dominated early proceedings, with relentless high pressing, enjoying the lion’s share of possession. In response, Port Moresby Strikers were struggling to escape their half.

The first opportunity of the game came in the sixth minute when Hekari United’s Rex Naime headed a well-placed cross just above the crossbar. 

Strikers had an opportunity to get back into the tie in the 19th minute when Matthew David broke through on the right flank but his shot ricocheted off a defender and into the grateful hands of goalkeeper Dave Tomare.

The deadlock was broken in the 24th minute when a well-placed Yagi Yasasa free kick found a teammate at the far post. The ball fell to Hekari United’s Karo Kila in front of the goal and he lashed the ball into the top of the net. 

Towards the end of the first half, the intensity of Hekari’s high press dipped in the 33-degree heat, and the game opened up as Strikers saw more ball. 

In the dying minutes of the first half, Hekari had a flurry of promising chances. Rani powered a left foot shot from long range but was denied by an acrobatic save from Koniel, whilst minutes later, a well-worked Hekari attack led to a close-range shot from Rex Naime – once again the danger was extinguished by Koniel. 

Fresh legs reignited the match in the second half and in the 65th minute, Hekari United substitute Nathaniel Eddie latched on to a looping ball to the right flank and powered it wide of goal. 

A minute later, Strikers’ substitute Eaka Philemon sliced a clean volley to the top left of the goal frame. Momentum shifted to Strikers and they enjoyed more opportunities as they tired to work a way back into the tie.

In the 70th minute, Hekari put the game to bed. Joseph Joe capitalised on a stray ball from the Strikers’ defense and crossed it to Rani who found space in the box and slotted the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal to make it 2-0.  

In the game’s closing minutes, there was action at both ends as Strikers scrambled for every opportunity in a desperate bid to draw level.

A powerful curling Strikers free kick forced a diving save from Tomare in the 89th minute but within seconds, the ball was down the other end in a rapid Hekari counter-attack and Ila Ani netted a well-placed cross – the goal however ruled out for offside.

Minutes later, another excellent Joseph Joe pass put Yasasa through the Strikers’ defense and he was brought down by Arol Tateng in the box. Joe himself stepped up to take the resulting penalty, driving the ball to the top right corner to make it 3-0. 

Hekari will join Group A in the OFC Men’s Champions League in May, alongside the National Playoff winners from the Solomon Islands, New Zealand and Rewa FC from Fiji.

Hekari United FC: 3 (Karo KILA 28’, Solomon RANI 76’, Joseph JOE (P) 90+4’)
Port Moresby Strikers FC: 0

HT- 1-0

AS Magenta have taken a vital step towards qualifying for the OFC Men’s Champions League 2024 with a 2-1 win over ASC Gaïca in their first leg National Playoff at the Stade Numa Daly in New Caledonia.

Gaïca had a golden opportunity to open the scoring from the penalty spot in the 31st minute, only for Magenta goalkeeper Mickael Ulile to produce a wonderful save from Fonzy Ranchain.

Almost immediately a second penalty was awarded at the other end. This time, the effort was converted – Jean Claude Jewine slamming his effort into the corner to give his side a crucial lead.

Just past the hour mark Magenta grabbed a second when Jimmy Watu – freshly on as a substitute – broke the Gaïca backline and calmly slide the ball under the body of Rocky Nyikeine.

Photo Credit: OFC Media via Fédération Calédonienne de Football

The tie was almost put to bed less than ten minutes later when a third penalty of the match was awarded, again to Magenta. Jewine this time however could only hook his effort wide having sent the ‘keeper the wrong way.

Jewine completed an eventful afternoon with minutes left – the referee brandishing a red card to the goalscorer following a rash tackle.

Deep into stoppage time Gaïca gave themselves a lifeline. Neville Wahiobe brilliantly turning his header into the corner from a driven cross by Ranchain.

All to play for in the second league in a weeks time on February 24.

ASC Gaïca: 1 (Neville WAHIOBE 90+9′)
AS Magenta: 2 (Jean Claude JEWINE (P) 35′, Jimmy WATU 66′)

HT: 0-1