Ba, Hieneghène Sport and Puaikura are approaching ‘must-win’ territory as they head into Wednesday evening’s second round of Group B clashes in the OFC Champions League in Koné, New Caledonia.
Team Wellington got an early jump on the pack on Sunday night with 4-1 win over Puaikura FC while Ba FC and Hienghène Sport registered a point each from their 1-1 draw.
That means the three chasing teams cannot afford to give up any more ground to the New Zealand champions with only the group winners progressing to the semi-finals of this year’s expanded Champions League.
Host club Hienghène face the toughest task, taking on the group leaders in the late kick-off at Stade Yoshida and must avoid defeat to keep their Champions League dream alive in their debut season.
But Hienghène coach Felix Tagawa was underplaying any added significance saying each game was against a team that was their best in their respective nation.
“It was not really a big, big match but it’s very important. Just as important as the first match, second match and third match.”
It’s champions league football so every team is tough.”
Hienghène’s first encounter on Sunday night was played at frenetic pace against Ba with both sides pushing forward at breakneck speed. While Team Wellington present a different style Tagawa was predicting some similar elements.
“Wellington have some very good technical players, and they to push their fullback wide to create space and then move the ball forward very quickly.
Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira was fully aware of the weight of support behind the host club and was keen to remind his players of the need to remain focussed on what they need to do in the game as they look to take another step towards qualification for the final four.
“I think they [Hienghène Sport] certainly have nothing to lose and you could see the way they were playing in their first match and the support of a big crowd they had behind them,” Figueira said.
“There was a lot of passion there and that’s going to drive them even more in the next match, so for us we’ve got to try and put those things to the back of our mind, focus on what we do and what we’re good at.”
While the hosts and Wellington have the late kick-off at Stade Yoshida, the day gets underway with Ba FC facing Puaikura and for his part, Ba coach Imdad Ali is clear what’s at stake for the Fijian champions.
“Of course it’s a must win game because Wellington is leading on the other side and we need to win this game for sure, one hundred per cent.”
“I think every team has come in prepared and we don’t want to say that we will take any team easy. Preparation work has been done so we expecting this Cook Island team to give us a good run.”
Competition debutants Puaikura FC will take some pride from their committed display against Team Wellington in their maiden outing in the competition and now face a different but equally testing challenge from an experienced, energetic and highly physical Ba side.
The Cook Islands champions are remaining optimistic and determined going into their second match of the competition, to play a part in how the group unfolds.
“To go one nil up was an iconic moment for Cook Islands football history,” coach Kevin Fallon said, “so we are hoping to continue with that and keep competitive all the way through the tournament.”
“It would be fabulous if we could pinch something and get a result. To be perfectly honest, as a coach, you’re always after that. You have to be realistic but and at the end of the day you’re always trying to get a result.
Puaikura FC and Ba FC square off at 5pm local time to open match day two, in Group B followed by the encounter between Hienghène Sport and Team Wellington at 8pm.
Puaikura FC v Ba FC
Koné, New Caledonia
Wednesday 1 March
Vital Statistics: Puaikura, making their group stage debut in the OFC Champions League lead two-time beaten finalists Team Wellington for 20 first half minutes after Andre Estay slotted an 18th minute penalty.
The Players: Pekay Edwards lead the line admirably for the Cook Islands champions running himself into the ground to give his side an outlet when they looked to counter attack or just to relieve pressure.
Coach Quote: “I’m there to help a lot of these young players and I was quite pleased with what they produced on Sunday because Team Wellington have beaten other New Zealand teams by bigger scores than that so it was a reasonable effort.”
Puaikura FC: 1. Liam LITTLE (GK), 2. Jarves APERAU, 3. Anthony SAMUELA, 4. Pekay EDWARDS, 5. Paul POILA, 6. Kimiora SAMUELA, 7. Samuel COX, 8. Grover HARMON, 9. Tyrell TAHIRI, 10. Jeremias PEREZ, 11. Dwayne TIPUTOA, 12. Harlem SIMIONA, 13. Andre ESTAY, 14. Ishak MOHAMMED, 15. Junior MATANGI, 16. Hone FOWLER, 17. Paul DAY, 18. Conroy TIPUTOA.
Coach: Kevin FALLON (NZL)
Vital Statistics: Including Sunday’s draw, Ba are unbeaten in their last 13 group stage matches (10 wins 3 draws) in the OFC Champions stretching back to the 2012-2013 season.
The Players: Malakai Tiwa was instrumental to Ba’s result against Hienghène but not just for scoring the team’s equalizer as the time winded down. A combative and physical presence in the centre of Ba’s midfield, Tiwa’s leadership and organisation will be called on in tomorrow’s match against Puaikura.
Coach Quote: “Even though we left it very late in our last match we created more opportunities and we had the hope and concentration was always there so that we could equalise.
Ba: 1. Shaneel NAIDU (GK), 2. Avinesh SUWAMY, 3. Meli CODRO, 4. Manasa NAWAKULA, 5. Ronil KUMAR, 6. Suliano TAWANAKORO, 7. Samuela NABENIA, 8. Patrick RALULU, 9. Abbu Zahid SHAHEED, 10. Mavileko NAKAMA, 11. Praneel NAIDU, 12. Remueru TEKIATE, 13. Amena BOLAITAMANA, 14. Josefata NEIBULI, 15. Saula WAQA, 16. Malakai TIWA, 17. Narendra RAO, 18. Laisenia NAIOKO, 19. Jonetani NEWA, 20. Josaia RATU (GK), 21. Malakai RAKULA.
Coach: Imdad ALI (FIJ)
Hienghène Sport v Team Wellington
Koné, New Caledonia
Wednesday 1 March
Vital Statistics: Hienghène Sport initially finished above AS Magenta on the table for the 2015 New Caledonia Super Ligue but a league-wide process of point deductions to encourage development (fielding youth teams, having qualified coaches and supplying accredited match officials) left Hienghène ten points behind Magenta but still with enough points to finish second and claim a spot in this year’s Champions League.
The Players: Fans with a working knowledge of New Caledonian football may have been surprised to see Roy Kayara in the centre of defence, given he still plays in a far more attacking role in the midfield of his national team. Hienghène coach Felix Tagawa has utilised Kayara’s vision and distribution in defence for the past two seasons.
Coach Quote: “It wasn’t a bad result for Hienghène for the first match and we’re remaining positive heading into the match against Team Wellington.”
Hienghène Sport: 1. Jean Yann DOUNEZECK (GK), 3. William YENTAO, 4. Pothin POMA, 5. Jordan DINET, 6. Adolphe BOAOUTHO, 7. Anthony KAI, 9. Jefferson DAHITE, 10. Miguel KAYARA, 11. Bertrand KAI, 12. Warren HOUALA, 13. Roy KAYARA, 14, Giani KAYARA, 15. Clifton KANVA, 16. Harry DINET, 18. Renaldo POINDJIAO (GK), 19. Rocky NYIKEINE (GK), 24. Rudy KAYARA, 27. George BAMY, 28. Franck SINEM, 29. Johanès BERNOL, 30. Yvanoe BAMY, 33. Iamel KABEU, 34. Yohann MERCIER.
Coach: Felix TAGAWA (FRA)
Vital Statistics: Team Wellington have only met New Caledonian opposition twice before in the OFC Champions League, beating AS Loss 2-1 in last season’s group stage before defeating AS Magenta 2-0 in the semi-finals.
The Players: Former Wellington Phoenix player Joel Stevens provided a constant threat down Wellington’s left flank in their opening match against Puaikura as well as deft touches to shift play when playing with his back to goal.
Coach Quote: “We’ll do our analysis and prepare ourselves properly but you know we’re going to have to be right at the top of our game and ensure we have a good start to the game and take control of things early.”
Team Wellington: 1. Scott BASALAJ (GK), 2. Justin GULLEY, 3. Omrie SAOLELE, 4. Guillermo MORETTI, 5. Bill ROBERTSON, 6. Taylor SCHRIJVERS, 7. Leo VILLA, 8. Cole PEVERLEY, 9. Tom JACKSON, 10. Nathanael HAILEMARIAM, 11. Mario BARCIA, 12. Andy BEVIN, 13. Roland BALA, 14. Billy SCOTT, 15. Joel STEVENS, 16. Ben HARRIS, 17. Sam BLACKBURN, 18. Nicolas ZAMBRANO, 19. Joshua MARGETTS, 20. Nicholas EDGINTON, 21. Niko KIRWAN, 22. Adam MCDONALD (GK).
Coach: José FIGUEIRA (ENG)