Photo Credit: OFC Media via VFF

Ifira Black Bird FC have qualified for the OFC Men’s Champions League 2024 after defeating Classic FC 3-2 on aggregate in the National Play-Off in Vanuatu. 

A 1-1 draw at VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila was enough for Ifira to confirm their place in May’s tournament, holding on despite being reduced to ten men in the second-half.

Both sides got off to a scrappy start in humid conditions, feeling each other out with the dangling carrot of an OFC Men’s Champions League place at stake. 

Chasing a first leg deficit, it was Classic FC who slowly upped the tempo as the opening stanza progressed. Sylvain Worworbu sent a header wide of the right post following a free kick delivery off the left, before Bill Toata half-volleyed a powerful effort over the crossbar after being played in behind the Ifira Black Bird defence. 

A poor defensive mistake at the back handed Ifira the opening goal of the afternoon, with Spokeyjack Johnathan able to steal possession at the top of the box and roll the ball past Dgen Leo without any trouble. It was almost too easy for Jean Robert Yelou’s side, making it 3-1 in the tie for very little work. 

The goal brought the contest to life, and Classic should have had one back when Bill Toata saw his effort parried away from the bottom left corner of the net by Antonie Taiwia. 

It wouldn’t take too much longer for Toata to find the back of the net though, taking advantage of a mistake from Ifira goalkeeper Taiwia to tap home following a corner delivery three minutes before half-time. 

The game had burst into action after a nervy start and Ifira Black Bird were holding onto a 3-2 lead in the tie when referee Arnold Tari blew his whistle for the break. 

For the second time in the tie Ifira were made to pay for a lack of discipline, and the contest was blown open when Thomas Napakaurana received a red card for a dangerous late slide tackle deep inside his own half, mirroring Alphonse Lency’s in the first leg. 

That gave Classic FC twenty minutes to level the tie and they threw numbers forward in a desperate search of equalising goal. Accuracy continued to desert them at times however and Ifira almost buried the contest when Godine Tenene broke away on the counter and forced Antonie Taiwia into a good one-on-one save. 

The home side were living dangerously with ten men as the contest wore down, and Classic almost drew level when Zidane Maguckon saw his header cleared off the line following a corner from the right.

It took all of their effort, but Ifira Black Bird just about held firm defensively late on to book their ticket to Tahiti.

Ifira Black Bird will now join New Caledonia’s AS Magenta, Samoa’s Vaivase-Tai FC, and the Tahiti National Play-off winner in Group B of the OFC Men’s Champions League 2024 in Tahiti. 

Ifira Black Bird FC: 1 (Spokeyjack JOHNATHAN 28’)
Classic FC: 1  (Bill TOATA 42’)

HT: 1-1