Hienghène Sport have set up a winner-takes-all clash v Rewa FC in Group B of the OFC Champions League 2022 after beating a stubborn Nikao Sokattak side 1-0 at Ngahue Reserve in Auckland, New Zealand.
Fonzy Ranchain finally penetrated the Cook Islands outfit’s defence in the second-half to earn the 2019 champions their first points of the campaign after a dogged defensive display and a brilliant individual performance from Nikao goalkeeper Tahiti Elikana threatened to keep the tie deadlocked.
Hienghène laid siege to the Nikao goal throughout the first half with Ranchain missing several gilt-edged chances to give his side the lead inside the opening 10 minutes.
Nikao’s charismatic goalie Elikana then began his heroics, first denying Hienghène captain Bertrand Kai before making an impressive reflex stop from Miguel Kayara’s powerful strike.
Hienghène’s chances continued to pile up but Nikao were doing everything in their power to keep the game scoreless, in hope of a big scalp over the 2019 winners.
If it wasn’t player-of-the-match Elikana denying the New Caledonian side, Nikao’s defenders got themselves in the way, Silas Trego blocking Kai’s half-volley off the line as the underdogs held on until the break.
The one-way traffic continued in the second period and after seeing another chance go begging, Ranchain finally got his goal, breaking the offside trap to head home Joseph Athale’s lobbed pass and breaking Nikao’s brave resolve.
Elikana continued to produce magic to keep the scoreline down, twice preventing Ranchain with acrobatic stops while Toru Mateariki had Nikao’s first chance of the game after a flying counter-attack, his effort being palmed away by Hienghene stopper Jacques Nyikeine.
Nikao came close to a smash-and-grab late equaliser when Mark Leito smashed over a volley after Stephen Willis’ long throw but the reigning champions saw out a hard-fought win which eliminates their valiant opponents.
Hienghène take on Fiji’s Rewa in their final Group B clash on Thursday with a place in the semi-finals on the line while Nikao Sokattak face Auckland City FC with both team’s contrasting fates already confirmed.
Nikao Sokattak FC 0
Hienghene Sport 1 (Fonzy RANCHAIN 58‘)