Wednesday’s two absorbing and tense draws at Port Moresby’s Sir John Guise Stadium has firmly underlined just how closely matched all four teams are in Group A of the OFC Champions League 2020 tournament.
Surprise pacesetters Galaxy FC looked to have their passage to the next stage secured before a late fightback by Eastern Suburbs in their top-of-the-table clash.
Then reigning champions Hienghene Sport produced their own comeback against hosts Hekari United to ensure that qualification to the knock-out stages will go down to the wire on Saturday’s final matchhday.
Galaxy FC 2-2 Eastern Suburbs AFC
Following their shock 4-1 victory against reigning champions Hienghene Sport, tournament debutants Galaxy FC were again quick off the mark to grab a two-goal lead against fellow newcomers Eastern Suburbs from New Zealand.
Terence Carter showed plenty of strength and composure in the final third the give the lead to the Vanuatu outfit before Brazilian import Roberson Dos Santos Ribiero tapped into the empty net following some good work and a well-timed low cross by Eddison Stephen to put the Kiwis further on the backfoot.
Eastern Suburbs prolific Italian striker pulled a goal back from the penalty spot just before the half-time break and the New Zealanders were well and truly back in the game seven minutes into the second period when Stephen was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Batram Suri’s charges fought hard to hold onto their narrow lead and they looked to have done enough before Bueno popped up inside the box to level the scores with a fantastic curling strike, which was his fourth goal in two matches.
Despite the late heartbreak, the Galaxy coach was pleased with the outcome.
“I think the draw was a fair result, of course we wanted to win but following the red card we have to be satisfied with the result and our destiny is still in our own hands going into the final game,” explained Suri.
His Eastern Suburbs counterpart Tony Readings was also delighted with his players’ fighting spirit.
“It was probably a bit hotter today than during our last game, which is hard to imagine. So it was very tough and when you go 2-nil down in these conditions against a good team, you will be always up against it,” he said.
“We were disappointed the way we conceded the goals but you can’t fault the response and the work of our players and we thought we got our just reward by the end of the game,” added Readings whose team sits in second place in Group A, behind Galaxy only on goal difference going into the final matchday.
Hienghene Sport 2-2 Hekari United
Following defeats on the opening day, both Hienghene Sport and hosts Hekari United were desperate for a win in order to bring their campaigns back on track.
The reigning champions looked to be in control during the early exchanges and raced to a lead inside the opening five minutes courtesy of a close range header by Roy Kayara.
However, the New Caledonians advantage evaporated at the half-hour mark when Eric Joe slotted home following a pinpoint cross from Vinicius Reis Kryzozun.
In added time at the end of the first half the hosts were awarded a penalty following a handball by Cendric Sansot inside the box, and Reis Kryzozun had no trouble converting.
Hekari tried to control the tempo of the game in the second half before a mistake inside the box presented Hienghene with a penalty chance of their own.
Just like in the opening match against Galaxy FC, Joseph Athale kept a cool head to slot home from the spot to keep the defending champions alive in the competition.
Following the final whistle both coaches heaped praise on their players.
“I’m pleased with the boys because it was a very difficult game, Hekari pressed us really hard all throughout the match, so it’s pleasing that we managed to equalise towards the end of the game. It was tough and during the match sometimes it seemed Hekari played with 14 men instead of eleven,” joked the Hienghene coach Felix Tagawa.
Hekari United mentor Jerry Allen also stressed how hard his players had to fight against their New Caledonian opponents.
“It was really tough today, especially in the second half. I think the first half we managed really well, especially in the heat, but in the second half they put us under a lot of pressure. So it was great to see that the boys stood up very well and they held them until one little mistake cost us the win,” Allen explained.
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