New Caledonian eyes were smiling in the capital of Grande Terre’s northern province Kone, as Group A hosts Hienghene Sport produced a scintillating five-goal second half performance to brush aside Vanuatu’s Malampa Revivors FC, while Lae City Dwellers FC from Papua New Guinea came from behind to secure a thrilling 3-all draw against Tahitian powerhouse AS Tefana on Match Day 1 of the 2019 OFC Champions League.
Bright tropical sunshine and oppressive heat lingered over the immaculately prepared pitch of Stade Yoshida ahead of the opening match of Group A, but the stifling conditions couldn’t prevent a lightning quick start by the Tahitians who grabbed the lead through Farearii Tuteina’s well taken strike following a sweeping move straight from kick off.
Tefana doubled their advantage through Benoit Mathon, who held the ball up brilliantly to beat two Lae City defenders before passing the keeper with a perfectly executed left footed drive in the 33rd minute.
Despite the two goal lead Lae City showed plenty of attacking prowess through their experienced pair of Raymond Gunemba and his partner in crime Nigel Dabinyaba, and it was little surprise as the two combined with Dabinyaba expertly finishing his captain’s cross to bring their side back into the game in the 52nd minute.
However, Papua New Guinean celebrations were short lived as Tefana restored their two goal cushion less than a minute later courtesy of a well taken volley inside the box by skipper Alvin Tehau.
Lae City’s never-say-die attitude paid dividends seven minutes later thanks to Dabinyaba’s second with a left-footed strike inside the box, before Raymond Gunemba stepped up to complete thrilling come-back for the Papua New Guineans.
Relieved coach Peter Gunemba couldn’t hide his delight after his side’s spirited effort.
“First of all, I thank God for the draw, I’m glad with the result and I also thank the players for not giving up when we went down 2-nil, the team spirit we have really helped us to fight back and draw.
“I’m also thankful to the boys that they’ve listened to me and the game tactics I wanted them to play they followed,” added the Lae City coach.
Seeing his players’ commitment, Gunemba remains optimistic about his team’s qualifying hopes.
“I can see that we can play 90 minutes of football, just a few simple mistakes that cost us some goals which we will work on to iron out.
“We have a bit of lack of match fitness, we didn’t have too many games at home, so this game will really help us to see where our weaknesses and strengths are and we are going to work on it to fix them for the next two games,” the Lae City coach added.
Meanwhile, his Tahitian counterpart Franck Mathieu was ruing a missed opportunity to kick off the tournament in style.
“I don’t know what’s happened, we should have killed the in first half,” he lamented.
“In the second half our defense got lost, we didn’t do anything right and we put ourselves in danger and the inevitable happened.
“We were just simply not good enough, and I will need to have a good discussion with the players tonight because I think we were lucky not to lose in the end.
“We have two more games left, so we have a lot of work ahead if we want to advance in this competition,” Mathieu explained.
In the latter kick off Hienghene Sport stamped their authority on Group A with a resounding 5-nil victory over Malampa Revivors.
Following an evenly contested first half in which both sides created plenty of opening only to be let down by poor finishing in the final third, the floodgates have finally opened with a 50th minute penalty cooly converted by veteran Hienghen skipper Bertrand Kai, who made it 2-nil just four minutes later with a clinical header inside the box.
Spurred on by a vocal home crowed the New Caledonians extended their lead to three goals in the 57th minute courtesy of Anthony Kai who kept his cool to pass the keeper with a right footed strike from close range.
Despite putting the result beyond doubt, the home side finished with a late flurry as Bertrand Kai completied his hat-trick with another expertly taken diving header in the 89th minute before substitute Joris Gorendiawe put the icing on the cake in injury time.
Following his side’s resounding victory coach Felix Tagawa stressed the importance of staying grounded.
“We still have some stuff to adjust, Malampa played very well in the first half, they pressed us and managed to open us up,” he said.
“At the break I adjusted the team and asked them to play more freely and enjoy themselves.
“They understood it and we managed to get more space and score five goals,” Mathieu explained.”
On the other hand, disappointed Malampa Revivors coach, Kaison Maki left with the unenviable task of picking up his troops for the next match.
Maki believes his side lacked urgency after the half-time break and the turning point of the game came with the penalty.
“The second half we lost our concentration, especially in defence.
“The boys started a bit slow after the break and it cost us the game with the penalty.
“After that two more quick goals and we were down,” Maki said.