Two goals in the final seven minutes saw Hienghène Sport rescue a 2-2 draw from the jaws of defeat in Saturday afternoon’s first leg of the Oceania Champions League 2022 National Playoffs for New Caledonia.
The defending champions looked down and out as the final minutes of regular time approached at Stade Yoshida in Kone, after SC Ne Drehu had scored to lead 2-0 with 19 minutes to go.
But a goal from New Caledonia national team captain Emile Bearune gave them hope two minutes from the end of normal time, followed by a Joseph Athale penalty on one of the final kicks of the match which secured the draw.
After an opening 45 minutes which saw Ne Drehu lead 1-0, Hienghène coach Felix Tagawa’s adjustments and astute second-half substitutions appeared to breathe new life into the competition’s defending champions.
It sets up an exciting second leg on Monday (4pm NZT) in Noumea, with the winner advancing to the OCL Finals Tournament and the loser being eliminated from title contention.
Through a combative opening 20 minutes at Stade Yoshida in Kone, which saw a number of fouls committed, both sides enjoyed a number of early scoring opportunities, before referee Johnny Reboul pointed to the penalty spot after Jean-Luc Decoire became tangled with Jordan Wetria.
Ne Drehu captain Mone Wamowe converted to take the lead, but the hosts almost hit back immediately, with Antoine Roine firing just over the top of the bar.
In the second half, despite enjoying longer periods of possession and looking much improved, Hienghène were made to pay for a foul up against the sideline, with Wamowe curling in an accurate free kick which Emile Hace headed into the back of the net, doubling Ne Drehu’s advantage with 19 to play.
The introduction Bearune, and fellow substitute of Fonzy Ranchain, would later prove brilliant though, with the pair combining for their side’s first goal as Bearune popped up at the back post to knock in his teammate’s free kick.
As the final minute or so ticked away, Hace was ruled to have brought Ranchain down in the box resulting in a penalty.
Athale made no mistake from the mark, securing an unlikely draw which leaves it all to play for at the Stade Numa-Daly on Monday.
Hienghène Sport 2 (Emile BEARUNE 88’, Joseph ATHALE 90+4’)
SC Ne Drehu 2 (Mone WAMOWE 23’, Emile HACE 71’)