Local favourites Hienghene Sport topped Group A to clinch a home quarter-final of the 2019 OFC Champions League knock-out stage, while Lae City Dwellers FC from Papua New Guinea have also secured their passage to the final 8 in Oceania’s premier club football competition as group runners-up, after the two teams played out an entertaining 1-all draw at Kone’s Stade Yoshida.
In the earlier game on Match Day 3, AS Tefana from Tahiti and Vanuatu’s Malampa Revivors were also forced to settle for a draw before both bowing out of this year’s edition of the tournament.
Despite needing a win to keep their qualifications hopes alive, AS Tefana were sluggish during the opening exchanges against their rivals from Vanuatu, who had only pride left to play for on the final Match Day.
Playing with freedom Malampa looked a different team from the one comprehensively beaten by Hienghene and Lae City and their bright start to the game was rewarded with a richly deserved opening goal courtesy of skipper Claude Aru in the 7th minutes.
AS Tefana were lucky to not concede more as Malampa surged forward creating a number of clear cut chances before the Tahitians were awarded a penalty with their first meaningful foray into Malampa’s final third, for a foul on Benoit Mathon.
To make matters worse for Malampa, defender Gorshem Dona received a red card for his part in the incident before Viritua Tiaiho converted from the spot to level the scores in the 23rd minute.
Tefana’s numerical advantage however, did little to help their cause as Malampa retook the lead just three minutes later thanks to a great solo run and a clinical finish from Andre Batick.
Raffi Krissians 40th minute header restored parity to spare the blushes of Tefana at the half time break.
Tahitian keeper Moana Pito has also played an important role keeping the 10-men Malampa team at bay with a brilliant penalty save in the 62nd minute, before AS Tefana finally got their nose in front three minutes later through Viritua Tiaiho’s second of the game.
There was however another twist in the tale as Andre Batick netted for Malampa to secure his side’s first point of the tournament with an entertaining 3-all draw.
It was a hugely disappointing result for the Tahitians whose qualification hopes evaporated while the Malampa players could take plenty of positives out of their spirited fight against the odds despite finishing bottom of the group.
Tefana coach Frank Mathieu couldn’t hide his frustration with his team’s performance.
“There is not much to say, we were below our standards in every department, we lacked motivation and desire to achieve qualification.
“I think the boys came here for a vacation, some of them fought, but the rest acted like tourists who came here to spend 15 days on a visit to New Caledonia,” vented his anger Mathieu.
“It’s a huge disappointment, I though at least they had the mental strength to win and give themselves a chance for qualification, but we did not manage to win a single match, I don’t know what else to say,” lamented the Tefana coach.
On the other hand, Malampa coach Kaison Maki heaped praise on his players’ effort.
“Yes, I’m very happy with the boys’ especially for playing with 10 men for most of the match but still holding a team like Tefana, that’s a very big effort so I’m happy with the boys’ commitment and the way they competed in this game.
“This tournament was great experience for us, we are going home stronger and better and ready to prepare for the next Champions League campaign,” Maki said.
Although Hienghene Sport and Lae City Dwellers lined up against each with qualification to the next stage already under their belt, there were plenty on offer on the final match in Group A with both sides desperate to top the table in order to secure a home ground advantage in the knock out stage.
Hosts Hienghene only needed a draw for group supremacy and their outlook got even brighter in the 9th minute when the lively Brice Dihate’s lovely touch and control allowed him to beat the keeper with a well executed shot to the delight of the home crowd.
Falling behind caused no panic for the Papua New Guineans who conceded early goals in all of their three matches of the tournament and Peter Gunemba’s troops were back on level terms in the 24th minute courtesy of Nigel Dabinyaba’s fourth goal of the competition.
An absorbing open contest developed for the remainder of the match with both sides creating clear cut chances only to be denied by poor finishing, desperate goal-line clearances and a number of top class saves.
Despite countless attempts on goal up until the dying minutes, neither side was able to break the deadlock forcing them to settle for a share of the points.
When the final whistle blew the vocal Hienghene supporters have rasied their arms in the air triumphantly, knowing Stade Yoshida will be one of the four home venues for the quarterfinals of the 2019 OFC Champions League on the weekend of 6 and 7 April.
Despite finishing on top of Group A, Hienghene coach Felix Kagawa refused to get carried away.
“We had so many opportunities and so many chances to finish the game but we were missing some pride and aggression and we didn’t press high enough so were forced back a bit in attack and when that happens doubt starts to creep into your game, explained Tagawa.
“Lucky we have a great goalkeeper and tonight he has proved his worth.
“We don’t underestimate our achievement of finishing on top of the group because we fought for it hard, it wasn’t easy,” said the Hienghene Sport coach.
Meanwhile, Lae City Dwellers will find out their quarter-final destiny following the official draw at OFC’s Auckland head quarters on 5 March.
Coach Peter Gunemba is confident his side will be ready for any challenge ahead.
“I’m happy and thank God for the qualification, we came here to finish in the top two, of course our aim was to finish on top, unfortunately we couldn’t achieve that, but I thank the boys they fought very hard.
“We started slowly in the tournament but got better, we just have to work on the lapses of concentration at the back, because we made the same defensive mistakes that cost us silly goals,” admitted Gunemba.
“I know the quarter-final will be very tough game we will be playing away against a team with their crowd behind them, so we will go back and prepare for to be raedy wherever we will have to go,” said the Lae City coach.