Samoan champions Lupe Ole Soaga has emphatically qualified for the OFC Champions League 2023 main draw, after an action-packed 7-1 win over Tupapa Maraerenga of Cook Islands.
The game was played in very rainy conditions, that had unfortunately forced the cancellation of the day’s other game between Veitongo FC and Ilaoa & To’omata. While the ground was heavy, it didn’t stop both sides attacking from the very start. Lupe held a healthy goal difference heading in, so the pressure was on Tupapa to win.
The Cook Islanders almost struck straight away. Striker Jake McCoy found himself in a good bit of space inside three minutes, but his shot couldn’t beat goalkeeper Manaariki Pierre. The early stages saw some extremely aggressive defence as both teams pressed hard.
Lupe’s first chance came when Darren Taliai was wide open for a low cross, but he blasted his shot over the bar. Shortly after Andrew Setefano picked up his first yellow card, which would become a crucial call later on.
The lead was taken after Oscar Wichman lost his footing near his goal after some neat footwork by Jared Cuniff, the Englishman pounced on the loose ball and struck the ball into the top corner. From there Lupe seemed filled with belief and didn’t relent with their attacking mindset. However, a scuffle shortly after saw Setefano be presented with his second yellow card, meaning Lupe would have to play the game out with 10 men.
If anything, the situation actually made Lupe play better in the second half and they were rewarded with a marvellous bit of skill considering the tough conditions. Michael Leo took a great first touch and played it through for Cuniff to lay off stunning back-heel for Vaa Taualai to fire home and double the lead.
Any hope of a Tupapa comeback was severely dented when a Cuniff cross dropped by Pierre, with Jamie Mason on hand to tap in the loose ball. McCoy couldn’t get Tupapa on the board in the 70th minute when his shot went wide, but even if it had gone in the lead Lupe had established was still a long way away.
Lupe hit celebration mode with a goal to substitute Lawrie Letutusa, followed up by a Michael Leo solo effort that found the back of the net.
Silas Trego pulled back a consolation goal for Tupapa in the 88th minute, but by then Lupe were already safely thinking about their trip to Vanuatu in a few months for OFC Champions League 2023, however Lupe had the last words with a wonderful bit of solo skill by Cuniff to create space and hammer home his second right, then Arona Matau sent a shot into the roof of the net right on the final whistle.
The result marks the first ever victory for Lupe over Tupapa in OFC Champions League Qualifying.
LUPE OLE SOAGA 7 (Jared CUNIFF 23’, 90’, Vaa TAUALAI 55′, Jamie MASON 63′, Lawrie LETUTUSA 79′, Michael TUMUA LEO 81′, Arona MATAU 90’+3′)
TUPAPA MARAERENGA 1 (Silas TREGO 87’)