Hienghène Sport will have the chance to defend their Oceania Champions League title later this year, after defying a second-half red card to beat SC Ne Drehu 2-1 in the second leg of the National Playoffs for New Caledonia on Monday.
Veteran New Caledonia national team forward Bertrand Kai scored both his side’s goals at Stade Numa Daly in Nouméa – opening his account on 22 minutes before striking the decisive blow two minutes into extra time – to give Hienghène a 4-3 aggregate victory over the two legs.
Two days earlier the match in Kone ended in a 2-2 draw after Hienghène scored twice in the final 10 minutes.
Despite dominating much of the encounter in Nouméa, Hienghène faced an uphill battle after the dismissal of winger Antoine Roine in the 55th minute, following his second yellow card.
Ne Drehu meanwhile will rue a handful of missed opportunities to score late in the match, including a pair of chances which were pushed wide by substitute Patrick Gohe in the final 10 minutes.
Minutes after Kai spun past his marker to open the scoring, Hienghène were made to pay for being clumsy at the back when their attempt to clean up a loose ball in front of goal resulted in a hand ball on the edge of the box.
The ensuing free kick saw Nathanael Hmaen equalise via a powerful direct effort.
Hienghène would have led at the break but for a brilliant save from Hmaen, who pushed Kai’s close-range header onto the post to ensure they went to the break locked at 1-1.
A collision in the box early in the second half, which saw Roine booked for simulation, became an even bigger event minutes later when he was shown a second yellow – this time for a studs up challenge – and sent from the field.
Regardless, Hienghène continued to enjoy plenty of attacking opportunities as the match opened up.
In the end it was Kai’s pinpoint header, off a William Yentao cross, which confirmed the result and Hienghène’s qualification to the finals stage.
SC Ne Drehu 1 (Nathanael Hmaen 25’)
Hienghène Sport 2 (Bertrand Kai 22’, 90’+2)