AS Tefana have qualified for their second OFC Champions League semi-finals in a row but were given a run for their money by Marist who drew level to secure a 2-2 victory in the final match of Group D action at Stade Pater.
In the earlier match Erakor Golden Star had been hoping to keep their dreams of semi-final qualification alive – even if by a long shot – but unfortunately for the Vanuatu side Rewa had other plans beating them 2-1 to claim their first points.
Tefana coach Sebastien Labayen was incredibly pleased to be through to the semi-finals for the second consecutive year, and credited his strong coaching team with the success.
“We often see the team on field, this time it is a team of coaches next to you,” he said with assistant coach Pascal Vahirua and goalkeeper coach Manuel Taae alongside him.
Former professional Vahirua said the squad had been well prepared for this competition so to qualify for the semi-finals was of little surprise.
“We prepared our team to be present and ready, to being the maximum level of energy to the field and achieve our goal in the best conditions.”
The match kicked off with full intensity from both sides with each aware of what it would take to qualify for the final semi-final berth.
Sylvain Graglia, who will fly out tomorrow with the Tahiti national team for their World Cup Qualifying match against Papua New Guinea, was firing on all cylinders once again as he powered up and down the field with some piercing attacks.
For their part, Marist were equally in the mix with a couple of decent attacks testing goalkeeper Stevens Hiriga, but they struggled to maintain possession in the middle and were eventually punished for it.
Jonathan Tehau opened the scoring in the 23rd minute when he fired in an effort that Philip Mango struggled to deal with. Marist were then dealt a number of cautions as they held off a series of advances from their opponents.
They were dealt another blow however, when a shot ricocheted off the boot of defender Michael Boso and redirecting it past a diving Mango.
Despite the two goal deficit, Marist never let their heads drop and were rewarded for their determination just ahead of the break when Guilherme Guedes netted his fourth of the tournament.
The night got tougher for Marist on the stroke of 65 mintues when defender James Egeta was awarded his second caution of the evening after he was deemed to have halted a promising attack from Tefana.
A man down, Marist continued to play and although at times were clearly outnumbered by their opponents, kept up the pressure. After a stunning run into the box, Brazilian Guilherme Guedes was taken out down earning a penalty which he duly slotted past Hiriga.
“I’m proud of the game we had,” Marist coach Juliano Schmeling said.
“The first half to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to concede two goals. The second half I was very proud of them, it was an amazing performance especially when we went 10v11.”
In the opening encounter Rewa caused a stir when they went ahead in the 24th minute after Marcelo Junior put the finishing touch on an Iosefo Verevou pass.
That lead was extended less than eight minutes later when Verevou once again played supplier, cutting a pass back from the goal line to a Madhvan Goundar who put the ball past Chikau Mansale.
Despite conceding the two goals, Erakor was otherwise sound in defence but struggled to make inroads in the midfield and up front against their Fijian opponent.
It took until the 58th minute of the match for Erakor to get on the board, with leading scorer Tony Kaltack adding a fifth to his overall tally.
Play was up and down, back and forth, but neither side were able to find the net again leaving Erakor to rue their missed chances, while Rewa celebrated their first points on the table.
“You can see the challenges we’ve come through and the improvement we have made game-by-game,” Rewa coach Marika Rodu said.
“We wanted to end the competition on a high note, so despite the fact we won’t make it to the next stage, it was a good stepping stone for us and the boys did well to secure the three points.”
For Etienne Mermer the loss was somewhat disillusioning but overall was pleased that the side was able to get some results along the way.
“First af all I want to congratulate the boys,” he said.
“And from my point-of-view, I expected to get a win but unfortunately we lost. That said, it has been a good experience for us, especially for these players.”
AS Tefana are the fourth and final team to qualify for the OFC Champions League semi-finals where they join Auckland City FC and Team Wellington of New Zealand as well as AS Magenta of New Caledonia – the same four semi-finalists as in 2016.