Lupe Ole Soaga and Puaikura FC have earned three points apiece after defeating Utulei Youth 4-3 and Veitongo FC 4-0 respectively in the 2017 OFC Champions League Qualifier this afternoon.
The tournament opener between Utulei Youth and Lupe Ole Soaga was a close and physical battle, with back-to-back goals from either side leaving the three points hunt open to right up until the final minutes of the match.
Two goals from Lapalapa Toni and a goal each from Suivai Ataga and Samuel Malo trumped the three goals scored by Utulei Youth’s Paulo Bourne and Kenneth Kerewi, setting the Samoans on the right path ahead of their next match.
Physicality nearly cost Lupe the game in the second half when Vito Laloata received his second yellow card and his marching orders in the 60th minute, leaving the side with just 10 players for the remaining 30 minutes.
Despite the win, coach Paul Ualesi believes there is plenty of room for improvement in their next match.
“It wasn’t really a good game, but a win is a win,” he said.
“We need to work on our discipline. I think it cost us so much and that’s why our final score was so close. We’re going to work hard on our weaknesses for the next game.
“In the next match we’re going to forget about this first one. Our first mission is complete and now we’re ready for our second one. We’re going to work on our weaknesses to be prepared for Puaikura.”
Utulei Youth coach Pita Sinapati hasn’t let the loss dampen his spirits, and feels confident his side has the ability to stay in the competition after what proved a very close match.
“Our plan from here is to fix the mistakes from today, lift the level over the next two days and be ready for our next match,” he said.
The day’s late match saw both teams battle until the 90th minute, despite excessive heat prompting mandatory water breaks in both halves.
Puaikura’s Maro Bonsu-Maro proved dangerous on the wing and opened the scoring for the Cook Islands club when he flicked the ball behind him and into goal during a scuffle of play in the Veitongo penalty area. Paul Rhodes, who had earlier missed the opportunity to give his side the lead when he had his penalty kick saved, sent an attempt through the hands of Veitongo goalkeeper Mahe Malafu to secure the 2-0 lead for Puaikura at half-time.
Another second from Rhodes and an own goal from Veitongo defender Unaloto Feao secured the win for Puaikura in an easier second half against 10 men after the hosts club lost senior player Mark Uhatahi to an early red card.
Puaikura coach Matt Calcott was happy with the result considering the side only spent two days training as a full squad and played their first match together in demanding conditions.
“I thought it was pretty good, it was pretty professional,” he said.
“It was very hot, obviously, having time for drinks breaks, so it was good to get through and get a good positive result.”
Calcott acknowledged Veitongo’s physicality and structure, admitting Puaikura left nothing on the field to keep their lead and take home the three points.
“Early on their shape was pretty good. They had a clear plan and their distances were good defensively,” he said.
“They’ve obviously been doing a lot of work on the training ground and we had to be at our best to try and break them down.”
Although it was a heavy loss for his side, Veitongo coach Timote Moleni believed the team fought hard against a skilled opponent with experience on their side.
“I am disappointed with the loss, but from what I saw, the boys put up a good fight,” he said.
“Now we will work together on the mistakes from this game and prepare for our next game.”
The two winners from today will meet at 12pm (local time) on the second day of the 2017 OFC Champions League Qualifier on 31 January. That match will be followed by Utulei Youth FC and Veitongo FC, with both needing to get points on the table, at 3pm.