AS Magenta opened their OFC Champions League with a 2-0 victory over Qualifier runners-up Lupe Ole Soaga this afternoon, but all eyes were on the matchup between hosts Marist and Group D favourites Team Wellington who played out a thrilling 1-1 draw at Lawson Tama Stadium.
In front of 12,000 vocal fans, Marist took to the field with gusto but found themselves under early pressure as former Wellington Phoenix striker Hamish Watson and Guernsey recruit Ross Allen had early opportunities.
However things soon swung in Marist’s favour as captain Henry Fa’arodo unleashed a powerful effort around the ten minute mark to test goalkeeper Scott Basalaj’s reflexes. Fa’arodo’s shot rattled the woodwork but seemed to be what Marist needed to nudge them up a gear.
Two more chances came to Davidson Tome and Mathias Iani before Abraham Iniga found the gap he needed to put his side ahead.
With Team Wellington a goal down coming into the second half, coach Jose Figuera opted to make a change for the second spell bringing in Taylor Schrijvers. The match seemed to find a more equal balance with a lot of the action contained to midfield. Young recruit Jack-Henry Sinclair put one on target just ahead of the hour mark before Team Wellington made two more changes – one for injury and one tactical – which seemed to be the boost they needed.
With just four minutes of regulation time remaining Angus Kilkolly found the top of the net from a tight angle to give Team Wellington an equaliser.
Marist coach Jerry Allen said for his side to take the lead in the first half was an indescribably feeling.
“I was really excited, really happy,” he said. “We wanted to come here to win, and if not draw.
“I think we maintained the ball a lot, tried to play short passes. I think the final part didn’t help us, we just couldn’t finish.”
Team Wellington’s equaliser was a disappointing turn for Allen, but he said it comes down to discipline.
“If we were better disciplined I don’t think they would have scored because it was an awkward angle, but that’s how football goes. We don’t shut down quickly and they score.”
Figueira gave Marist the respect they deserved after a tough outing for his side in tough new conditions, and in front of one of the largest crowds the side has played in front of.
“We’re happy to come away with the points. Full credit to Marist, I think in the first half they were fantastic and pressed us really well and we weren’t able to get into our rhythm whatsoever,” the Englishman said.
“With the big crowd I think some of our players just lost their concentration, so credit to Marist for the way they came at us in the first half.”
Figueira said the tactical changes made coming into the second half were the difference for his side.
“We made a few tactical changes at half-time and I think it gave us probably a bit more solidarity, a little bit more of the ball and we were moving the ball with purpose and creating opportunities.”
In the earlier match Magenta were considered favourites after beating Lupe Ole Soaga 2-1 in last year’s group encounter. However with climatic conditions and no home ground advantage the match proved a relatively even affair.
Which was not to Magenta coach Alain Moizan’s liking.
“The win is the only satisfaction I have,” the former national team coach said.
“My team really lacked effectiveness in their offense. We should have scored two or three more but unfortunately we weren’t good enough in this area.”
His side dominated possession but as Moizan stated, a lot of opportunities were wasted in front of goal as his team struggled to impose themselves.
For their part, Lupe defended well and were unlucky not to put a few chances of their own in the back of the net.
Lupe Ole Soaga coach Paul Ualesi said keeping Magenta contained to just two goals was a positive start and coupled with an improvement in discipline, overall he was happy.
“I know it’s not the result that we want, but I’m still proud of my boys for the effort they put into this game,” Ualesi said.
“It was a silly mistake in the first half for the easy goal, even for the second one. But for the second half we worked on some things defensively and it appeared to work.”
Lupe Ole Soaga will next face Team Wellington on Tuesday when Group D returns to Lawson Tama Stadium while Magenta will face the home side Marist in the late kick-off.