New Caledonia’s Tiga Sport has stunned former champions Hekari United 1-0 in Port Vila to blow Group B wide open at the OFC Champions League 2023. (Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek).
Appearing in their first Champions League tournament, Tiga Sport bounced back from a 3-0 loss to AS Pirae in their opening match to surprise the Papua New Guinea powerhouse, thanks to a lone goal midway through the second half.
Tiga Sport started more confidently and with more intent than in their first-up loss, while Hekari United were happy to ease into the game, trusting their systems and looking composed at the back where 19-year-old defender Ila Ani and veteran captain Daniel Joe were rock solid.
The PNG champions sprung into life in the 18th minute when Tiga Sport goalkeeper Jean-Yann Dounezek slipped on the greasy surface and a Kolu Kepo shot looked goal-bound, but defender Willy Mosse slid into the frame to clear the ball off the line.
Barely thirty seconds later Dounezek was forced to put his 37-year-old body on the line to block a sizzling shot from Ati Kepo. Hekari were launching attacking waves, forcing five corners in as many minutes, but Tiga Sport defended their goal grimly.
Hekari United squandered a golden chance in the 41st minute when skipper Joe drove from deep and Ati Kepo provided a superb cross for his brother Kolu, but the elder sibling blasted the ball over the bar.
The match was blown wide open in the 68th minute when Tiga Sport captain Shene Welepane – just minutes after sending a curling free kick narrowly over the bar – broke free on the right and finished superbly to give his side a surprise 1-0 lead.
Inventive midfielder Yagi Yasasa had a free kick opportunity in the 75th minute but consecutive shots were blocked by the seven-strong Tiga Sport red wall.
Hekari United had four shots on target in the first half but none at all in the second half as Tiga Sport sensed history in the making and lifted their game.
Welepane was rewarded for an inspirational showing with the Player of the Match award.
Tiga Sport: 1 (Shene WELEPANE 68’)
Hekari United: 0