Marist FC were on-target when it counted as they squeezed past Nalkutan FC 2-1 at Korman Stadium in Port Vila this evening to take their place in the OFC Champions League semi-finals for the first time.
“I am really excited. We were here to win, obviously everyone is, but I’m excited we did it,” Marist coach Jerry Allen said.
While expectations on the match were high, Allen said the execution of the game plan from his players was spot on.
“I think I should say thank you to all the players, everyone, especially in the second half. There was a bit of pressure coming but we stuck to the plan and defended well.”
It wasn’t a case of the visitors dominating proceedings at all, with Nalkutan actually looking more likely to open the scoring on home soil.
With fans turning out in their droves to see the local side attempt to secure a first ever semi-final berth the club from Tanna didn’t disappoint with Azaraiah Soromon putting an excellent chance just wide of the far post with Marist keeper Anthony Talo otherwise beaten.
It wasn’t until around the 20th minute that Marist started to play as a collective and find a rhythm that started looking lethal for Nalkutan. It was in the 25th minute that they finally struck.
Davidson Tome curled a cross in from the right wing which veteran Abraham Iniga struck on the volley, curling it around a diving Kaloran Firiam.
Moise Poida’s charges didn’t lose focus despite going behind, and on a couple of occasions seemed like they could be on track to equalise. However they had to content with falling even further behind when Mathias Iani latched onto a long ball behind the defence, beat his marker and the keeper to pull back to an arriving Tome who neatly slotted into an empty net.
Not to be outdone by the visiting side Bong Kalo, who recently returned from a month-long injury lay-off, cut inside Henry Fa’arodo before unleashing a powerful shot from outside the box.
Although some niggly challenges and delaying tactics crept into the second half the intensity barely faltered as Nalkutan desperately sought an equaliser while Marist defended their lead.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for the Tanna-side as Marist held on to take the victory and with it their historic passage to an OFC Champions League semi-final.
Moise Poida, Nalkutan coach, said the biggest downfall for his side was underestimating their opponents.
“We did not follow the plan. If you see the game, the goals conceded they weren’t concentrating on the game, on marking, there wasn’t enough communication.
“We came here with a high expectation of winning this game but we were punished in the first half.
“It was a 50-50 chance for us, but we were lacking physically, lacking experience but I think ultimately we underestimated this Marist team.”
The quarter finals conclude Sunday with Auckland City FC meeting Solomon Warriors before AS Dragon host Fiji’s Lautoka in Tahiti.