AS Tefana have slotted into top spot in the Group D standings after beating Rewa 2-0 to claim three points, while Erakor Golden Star got their OFC Champions League back on track with a 2-1 victory over Marist.
With two key defenders out suspended Rewa always had a tough task ahead of them taking on the group hosts at home, but having shuffled things around coach Marika Rodu was pleased with how his side came out determined to fire.
They gave Tefana a run for their money in the first half with Madhvan Gounder and Elias Silva putting pressure on the back four and keeper Stevens Hiriga, who was forced to make some outstanding saves early on.
But against the host side who were equally determined to give home fans something to cheer about it was never going to be a clear cut outcome.
Sylvain Graglia was once again on form for Tefana, using pace to his advantage to break through the defensive line, while also looking for options to score for both himself and his teammates.
After holding out well for the majority of the first half, a lapse in concentration allowed Tefana to break down the strong structure Rewa had in place at the back.
A cross from Graglia wide on the right was met at the near post by Stanley Atani who blasted it from close range into the back of the net.
Graglia continued to cause problems for Rewa in the second half appearing tireless in his bid to add to his side’s tally. However it wasn’t until the 76th minute that Tefana was finally able to once again break down the defences.
This time it was courtesy of a foul in the penalty area which led referee Campbell-Kirk Waugh to point to the spot. The honour fell to Viritua Tiaiho who made no mistake in placing it past Simione Tamaisau to extend the lead.
Holding onto the lead proved tougher than coach Sébastien Labayen intended after midfielder Donovan Bourebare picked up a yellow card, ruling him out of the side’s final match, before two minutes later finding the team down to ten men as Bourebare was given a second caution, followed by red.
As it were, Tefana continued to play as if they had equal numbers, while their inexperienced opponents struggled to maintain the intensity they began the match with.
Despite a couple of valiant efforts at both ends, there was no change to the score allowing the hosts to take their place at the top of the standings with two wins from two.
“Six points from two matches is the objective we set ourselves,” Labayen said.
“Tonight the players showed their determination and desire to do well and we were rewarded with a win.”
His counterpart Rodu said although his side desperately sought a victory, the sting of a loss was lessened knowing their opponent’s pedigree.
“We came here to compete well in this game, but we can’t take away from the fact that Tefana is a very experienced, well-structured side – and we understood that fomr the beginning.
‘We came here not focusing on the result so much as on a better performance than Saturday and I think the boys did step up.”
Wanting to prove themselves a valid contender in this competition, Erakor Golden Star were hoping to make three points their own this evening.
However with Marist chasing their second win in a bid to set themselves up comfortably going into their final match the opening Group D match proved a thriller.
The Solomon Islands club champions almost made an early impression on the match when Atkin Kaua fired in a powerful effort that veteran keeper Chikau Mansale dealt with well.
It was ping-pong from then on as both sides put in the hard yards looking for any cracks in the opposition defence, while also trying to maintain a strong structure of their own.
Marist were able to capitalise on a chance 30 minutes into the encounter when Djair Veiga delivered a perfect ball into the area for Guilherme Guedes to finish.
The lead didn’t last long however as Tony Kaltack leapt on an errant clearance finishing it into the back of the net to bring Erakor back in line.
Coming back from the break it was anyone’s game and the intensity didn’t drop for a minute as both side’s sought what they hoped would be the winner.
Fortune fell in favour of the Ni-Vanuatu side with five minutes left on the clock as Tony Kaltack became the hero after making a determined run into the box and putting the ball past Philip Mango.
As if it were possible, the two teams turned it up another notch for the final five minutes with Mansale making a series of impressive saves to deny Marist before being saved by the final whistle.
Erakor captain Michell Kaltack was pleased with the performance put in by his teammates as they secured a first-ever Champions League victory for the club.
“Marist is a good team so we had to work very hard to win the game,” he said.
“I was worried at half-time when we were level because we came here today to win the game, so now we’re the winning side and I’m proud of my boys.”
Accepting defeat after having had the lead in the match was tough for Marist coach Juliano Schmeling, but he commended both sides for their perseverance and performances.
“I think the game was very open, although we held more possession in the first half it was quite equal,” Schmeling explained.
“I’m happy with the performance of the players, the way they’re improving and growing up. I think all Solomon and Vanuatu countries should be proud because we had a nice game tonight.
“Both teams tried to get more possession, not just attacking. Normally when you see them playing its just attack, attack, attack but tonight it was a different game, I think the two communities should be proud of this game.”
Group D will return to action on Friday 17 March at Stade Pater when Rewa play Erakor Golden Star at 6pm and Tefana take on Marist at 9pm.