With close results leaving qualification wide open, four contenders eagerly await the kick-off of the third and final day of matches at the 2017 OFC Champions League Qualifier at Loto-Tonga Soka Centre in Nuku’alofa tomorrow.
The opening match of the day will see current table leaders Puaikura FC take on Utulei Youth, who are fighting to get their first points of the competition.
Although their 2017 OFC Champions League dream ended after their 3-1 defeat to Veitongo FC on Tuesday, coach Pita Sinapati is hoping to cause an upset against the Cook Islands club champions.
“This is our last game and Puaikura are leading the tournament so we’ve got to give it all we’ve got. Leave it all on the field,” he said.
“We want this to be a memorable game.”
With qualification secured for Puaikura, coach Matt Calcott feels a weight lifted off his shoulders as they approach their final match.
“It’s great going into that last game knowing that we have already qualified. The only thing that needs to be determined now is first or second,” he said.
“It was a couple of good performances for the first two games and I’m glad to be going into Friday with a little bit of the pressure taken off.”
Puaikura will be short of two dominant players down the spine of the field with the stand down of Anthony Hobbs after receiving a red card and midfielder Paul Rhodes who is on his way back to Auckland, but Calcott is confident in the depth of his side and believes his remaining players will step up to fill the positions.
“This is a good opportunity for some of the other players that haven’t had as much game time to step up and show that they should potentially be a starter.”
The second match will see Samoa’s Lupe Ole Soaga meet with hosts Veitongo in a clash that will determine the team joining Puaikura in the 2017 OFC Champions League.
Lupe Ole Soaga coach Paul Ualesi is expecting a tough match in front of a passionate away crowd.
“This is our second chance and it’s going to be tough,” he said.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the boys, especially against the host team. It’s going to be a very hard game for us.”
Lupe Ole Soaga will be heading into the match a man stronger in defence with Vito Laloata returning to the field after serving a one-game stand down but the Samoans will have to push forward without striker Lapalapa Toni, who received a red card in Tuesday’s fixture.
“We need to improve on discipline. We need to maintain ourselves on the field and finish the game with 11 players,” Ualesi said.
“We need to lift up and move forward from the mistakes in our past games.”
Veitongo will hope to please a home crowd in their final fixture and become the first Tongan club to qualify for the OFC Champions League.
“I’m very happy because I know most of the people in the village will come and support us,” he said.
The side is still short two players, with Mark Uhatahi and Hemaloto Polovili still suspended following their sending offs in their opening match against Puaikura FC, but coach Timote Moleni is confident in the ability of the remaining players after their victory against Utulei Youth on Tuesday.
“I know the boys we have will do their best in the last game,” he said.
“There were a few mistakes, especially with offside calls in the last match but I think they have done well to step up into those positions.”
Puaikura FC [COK] vs. Utulei Youth FC [ASA]
Loto-Tonga Soka Centre
Friday 3 February
Kick-off: 12h00 (local)
Vital Statistics: With second place trailing three points behind them, a win or a draw will secure Puaikura’s place at the top of the table, making them the first ever Cook Islands club team to qualify for the OFC Champions League Group Stage.
The Players: With only 15 players available for their last match, eyes will be on Dwayne Tiputoa to finish opportunities. The 19-year-old forward dominated in Cook Islands domestic competitions in 2016 and scored a goal for Puaikura at the their last appearance at the OFC Champions League Qualifier when he was just 16 years old.
Coach Quote: “The aim when we came here was to win it and that hasn’t changed. A good performance is key. It got a little bit scratchy there in our second game so we want to finish on a positive note.”
Puaikura FC: 1. Keegan INIA (GK), 2. Jarves APERAU, 3. Anthony SAMUELA, 4. Pekay EDWARDS, 6. Kimiora SAMUELA, 7. Samuel MAOATE-COX, 8. Paul POILA, 10. Grover HARMON, 11. Temata KARIKA, 12. Conroy TIPUTOA, 13. Tyrell BARRINGER-TAHIRI, 14. Maro BONSU-MARO, 15. Kris CARPENTER, 16. Renta YAMAMOTO, 17. Dwayne TIPUTOA.
Coach: Matt Calcott
Utulei Youth FC
Vital Statistics: Utulei Youth are the only side that hasn’t received a red card in the competition. The only cautions the side has received was a yellow card for goalkeeper Moimoi Tualaulelei in their opening match and for Joe Koroiado in their second match against Veitongo.
The Players: Paulo Bourne has proven dangerous for the side up front scoring their only open-play goal of the competition when he finished a cross to equalise before half-time in their match against Veitongo. Bourne also scored the opening goal in their match against Lupe Ole Soaga when he slotted his penalty kick into the back of net in the 12th minute.
Coach Quote: “We’ve got to hustle up, we’ve got one game left and we’ve got nothing to lose. We’ve got to play hard and stay focused.”
Utulei Youth FC: 1. Jonathan FA’AVAE (GK), 2. Neemia KALEOPA, 3. Tokoita VAIELI, 4. Kenneth KEREWI, 6. Rajendra SINGH, 7. Ryan SAMUELU, 8. Leuatea SIATUU, 9. Kome TOMASI, 10. Elama FAATONU, 11. BJ FIAALI’I, 12. Austin KALEOPA, 13. Moimoi TUALAULELEI (GK), 14. Paulo BOURNE, 15. Joe KOROIADI, 16. Iopu KALEOPA, 17. Sione MOEAKI, 18. Pesamino VICTOR, 19. Harvey MANU, 20. Peter HARRINGTON (GK).
Coach: Pita SINAPATI (ASA)
Lupe Ole Soaga [SAM] v Veitongo FC [TGA]
Loto-Tonga Soka Centre
Friday 3 February
Kick-off: 15h00 (local)
Lupe Ole Soaga
Vital Statistics: With goal difference in their favour, Lupe Ole Soaga only need to draw against Veitongo FC to secure their place at the 2017 OFC Champions League.
The Players: The return of starting defender Vito Laloata after he served his one-match stand down for receiving two yellow cards will boost the confidence of the side. At age 20, Laloata has progressed through age group to senior representative teams, starting out in the U-17 national team in 2013.
Coach Quote: “This is the last chance for us. We have to prove ourselves and we really need to work hard to get that chance at the OFC Champions League.”
Lupe Ole Soaga: 1. Faalavelave MATAGI (GK), 2. Vaalii FAALOGO 3. Spencer KELI, 4. Vaa TAUALAI, 5. John TEO, 6. Darren ALATINA TALILAI, 7. Lawrie LETUTUSA, 8. Samuel MALO, 9. Suivai ATAGA, 11. Ielome FUNAFUTI, 12. Suepasi PELESA, 13. Michael FIFI’I, 14. Tauati TANOAI, 15. Faafua ATAGA LALOATA, 16. Ivan FAAIVA, 17. Kareti SOAFA, 18. Mataio TOETU (GK), 19. Vito LALOATA.
Coach: Paul Ualesi (SAM)
Vital Statistics: Experience played to Veitongo’s advantage in their first win of the competition against Utulei Youth on Tuesday, with all three of the side’s goals scored by players over 30 years old. Lafaele Moala, Halapua Falepapalangi and Kilifi Uele secured the win for Veitongo and kept their OFC Champions League dream alive.
The Players: Hapalua Falepapalangi and his son Tuiakaetau are first father and son pair to play alongside each other at an OFC Champions League Qualifier. Read more about the duo here.
Coach Quote: “We’ve prepared hard and we aim to win our game on Friday.”
Veitongo FC: 1. Mahe MALAFU (GK), 2. Sione TUIFANGALOKA, 3. Sione UHATAHI, 4. Unaloto FEAO, 6. Kamaliele PAPANI, 7.Kilifi UELE, 8. Halapua FALEPAPALANGI, 11. Tupou UHATAHI, 12. Lafaele MOALA, 13. Sione KITE, 14. Vai LUTU, 15. Tuiakaetau FALEPAPALANGI, 16. Fetuli KATOA, 17. Etilei TUIONO, 18. Ofa KITE, 19. Oliveti VAI, 20. Deep KUMAR (GK), 21. Soane FAUPULA (GK).
Coach: Timote Moleni (TGA)