Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Fijian champions Labasa Women FC scored a penalty in the final ten minutes to earn a vital point against tournament debutants Auckland United FC on a rain-soaked pitch in Honiara.

The last of five teams to make their OFC Women’s Champions League debuts, one of the key talking points between captains at the pre-tournament press conference was how the New Zealanders might handle the Honiara heat and humidity.

Such fears seemed to ease early on as the New Zealand National League champions enjoyed the early running of the match, settling into crisp passing and build up play, but unable to find a final decisive touch, with Labasa were set up to catch them on the break.

Danielle Canham had the first real effort in anger, with a long range drive batted away by Selai Tikoisuva, who then came up trumps for the Fijians after the resultant corner, diving on the ball to deny a lurking Bree Johnson.

Auckland United had a great opportunity to take the lead just before the half-time break when they were awarded an indirect free-kick in the box after Tikoisuva picked up a back pass.

Labasa responded by assembling their entire XI on the goal line, creating an inpenetrable wall that their opponents couldn’t find a way past despite a number of efforts. 

Labasa captain Sofi Diyalowai was a lynchpin at the heart of the Fijians’ defence, shielding her goalkeeper and keeping the Kiwis’ attacking forays at bay  by marshalling a resolute offside trap.

Just past the hour mark Auckland United finally took lead through a well-constructed team goal. Penny Brill won possession and took off down the right wing, connecting with Alexis Cook who played in Rene Wasi close-in. The substitute played an inch-perfect low cross to the advancing Bree Johnson, who tapped into an unguarded net.

A few minutes later it was almost two, as a low drive from Cook from just inside the penalty area evaded the Labasa defenders, but continued across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.

The Fijians came close to equalising, when a searching ball from Vanisha Kumar found Narieta Leba between the two Auckland United centre-backs, but the striker could only blast her shot over the crossbar, much to the disappointment of the home crowd.

Labasa continued to turn up the heat on the Kiwis, restoring parity after they won a 77th minute penalty, when Auckland United goalkeeper Amberley Hollis brought substitute Anasimeci Volitkoro down when chasing a loose ball, 

Hollis had no chance of stopping Vanisha Kumar’s shot as it flew into the top corner. There was a slight delay as officials clarified whether there had been any encroachment in the area but the goal stood and parity was reached.

With the scores level again the temperature continued to rise and tackles continued to fly. Auckland United thought they had snuck a winner at the end, but Labasa’s robust defence was able to desperately scramble the ball clear when it seemed certain the ball would find the net.

Labasa Women FC: 1 (Vanisha KUMAR (P) 82′)
Auckland United FC:  1 (Bree JOHNSON 63’)

HT: 0-0