The three teams in contention for two OFC Champions League quarterfinals spots from Group B are working through the possible permutations as they prepare for their final playoff push on Saturday (local time) in Papeete, Tahiti.
In what shapes as a fascinating final day at Stade Pater, hosts AS Dragon (6 points and a goal difference of +5), Solomon Warriors (3 points, +3) and Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star (3 points, +1) could each top the group, qualify as runners-up or miss the playoffs altogether by finishing third.
In the most complex scenario, wins to Erakor and Solomon Warriors would leave all three teams level on six points with the final positions decided on goal difference, goals scored then a countback on head-to-head results if required.
After two wins from their opening matches, including Wednesday night’s dramatic last-gasp 4-3 victory over Erakor Golden Star, host club AS Dragon are in pole position and are the team with their destiny most in their own hands at Stade Pater.
A draw from their final fixture against Solomon Warriors would confirm the Papeete club as group winners and earn them home advantage for a one-off quarterfinal against the runners-up of another group.
However, a loss to Warriors by two goals or more would see them leapfrogged by the Honiara side and would open the door for Erakor to overtake them as well, leaving Dragon out of the playoff picture for the third time in as many OFC Champions League campaigns.
Coach Timiona Asen is keeping things simple for his side, with victory the only target.
“It would be a huge source of pride for the club and myself to reach the knockout stage of the OFC Champions League,” said Asen.
“I’ve asked my players to win the final match against Solomon Warriors, I’m not thinking about any calculation and just playing the draw, I want my team to win.”
Solomon Warriors, currently second in the group, need to beat Dragon by two goals to book a playoff place or, failing that, to at least match what Erakor Golden Star does against AS Lossi in the day’s opening fixture.
Warriors coach Moses Toata is already planning for an Erakor victor that would put the pressure on his side to win but with top spot still up for grabs there’s as much carrot as stick in his preparation.
“It’s like a final to us. We need three points. If we draw, we go out of the competition so for us it’s a must win,” Toata said.
“Also we have to win by a margin of two or three – we’re targeting top spot and a home quarterfinal.
“I’m not sure what Dragon’s approach will be but I am taking a very aggressive approach. We have to win and I will do everything I can.”
Third-placed Erakor Golden Star kick-off match day three at 3pm against a winless AS Lossi, whose heavy defeats in the first two matches have essential ended their own quarterfinal hopes.
With Warriors and Dragon not facing off until 6pm, Golden Star will be chasing victory by a four goal margin to guarantee a place in the quarterfinals regardless of the outcome of the evening match happens but even a less sizeable win shifts the onus firmly onto Solomon Warriors to beat AS Dragon.
Anything less than a win for Erakor would not only book Dragon’s ticket without the Papeete club kicking a ball but also allow Warriors to join them in the knockout stages with a draw.
Erakor coach Obed Jimmy is backing a fast start via an all-guns-blazing approach to ensure his team’s fate doesn’t rest in the hands of other teams.
“I told the boys we have to score four or five and then we have to see if we can defend that and go back to playing our normal game.
Jimmy believed the side’s performance against AS Dragon in a heart-stopping injury time defeat was worthy of victory on any other day and was asking his side to reach for the same heights of effort and execution again.
“Every game I analyse the match but after our last match there was nothing to say. They were above the limit. Before the game I asked them to go beyond the level they thought could play and they did that. I’m asking them to do it one more time.”
AS Lossi coach Victor Wejieme said it was important to finish the group on a high note after two disappointing defeats and naturally looked to shore up the defence if they were to spoil Erakor’s hopes of progression.
“Our first target is not to concede any goal,” Wejieme said.
“We watched Erakor playing and they’re good with the ball, good in passing and the players have some stamina. They’re good in attacking so the first tactical point would be to protect ourselves well. And we’ll have to be quick in our attacking phases.
“It’s important for us to go back to New Caledonia with a positive result.”
AS Lossi and Erakor Golden Star kick off proceedings at Stade Pater at 3pm local time on Saturday with Solomon Warriors and AS Dragon completing Group B action at 6pm.
Note: Games are on Sunday in New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
AS Lossi [NCL] vs. Erakor Golden Star [VAN]
Saturday 17 February
Kick-off: 15h00 (local)
(12h00 NCL/SOL/VAN Sunday 18 Feb)
Referee: Peter LINNEY (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Glen LOCHRIE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Sione TEU (TGA)
Fourth Official: Nick WALDRON (NZL)
Vital Statistics: AS Lossi have now suffered five OFC Champions League defeats in a row dating back to their maiden campaign in 2016.
The Players: Jonathan Kakou has been Lossi’s most consistent performer over their two matches. Cutting an imposing figure in the centre of midfield, Kakou has also been a aerial threat from set-pieces and has not been afraid to test the opposition goalkeeper from distance.
Coach Quote: “Mentally, we were not in the match on Wednesday but we need to pull ourselves together and restart the engine.”
Team List: 1. Nicodem HMAEN (GK), 2. Jules KAUMA, 3. Jonathan KAKOU, 4. Jean Paul READ, 5. Pierre KAUMA (c), 7. Damien WANAPOPO, 8. Morgan MATHELON, 9. Raoul WENISSO, 10. Mone WAMOWE, 12. Clarence NYIPIE, 13. Warren SAIKO, 14. Robert WAOUKA, 15. Paul OZIKA, 17. Henri WAIMA, 19. Amy HNAGEJE, 21. Ben-Drela HMAEN, 29. Emmanuel WEJIEME (GK), 30. Patrick NYIKEINE (GK).
Coach: Victor WEJIEME (NCL)
Erakor Golden Star
Vital Statistics: Erakor’s inferior goal difference (+1 compared to Warriors [+3] and Dragon [+5]) puts the onus on them to win, and win big, in the opening match on match day three. A four goal victory over AS Lossi would guarantee qualification whatever the result of the Warriors-Dragon clash.
The Players: From set-pieces, Barry Mansale has shown he possesses a deadly eye for goal, and the technique to match. He scored a wonderful curling effort against Solomon Warriors then drew an excellent top-corner save from AS Dragon’s Gilbert Meriel as he loked to repeat the effort on match day two.
Coach Quote: “We need to go out and score a lot of goals so we don’t have to worry about what Dragon or Warriors do.”
Team List: 1. Chikau MANSALE (GK), 2. Jacques WANEMUT, 3. Jesse KALOPONG, 4. Gordshem DONA, 5. Selwyn VATU, 6. Robert TOUKOUNE, 7. Kaltfer KALTACK, 8. Ronaldo WILKINS, 9. Tony KALTACK, 10. Jacky RUBEN (c), 11. Nemani ROQARA, 12. Bernard DANIEL, 13. Godine TENENE, 15. Elkington MOLIVAKARUA, 18. Barry MANSALE, 20. Serge DANIEL (GK), 22. Gerhsom KALSONG.
Suspended: 16. Joseph IARUEL.
Coach: Obed JIMMY (VAN)
Solomon Warriors [SOL] vs. AS Dragon [TAH]
Saturday 17 February
Kick-off: 18h00 (local)
(15h00 NCL/SOL/VAN Sunday 18 Feb)
Referee: Campbell-Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Mark RULE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Sione LELENGA (TGA)
Vital Statistics: Warriors will qualify for the knockout stages of the OFC Champions League for the first time if they match or better Erakor’s result against AS Lossi or if they beat AS Dragon by a two goal margin.
The Players: The addition of Judd Molea alongside John Alick and Jerry Donga in midfield allowed Solomon Warriors to dominate possession and create overloads in key areas of the pitch in the big win over AS Lossi.
Coach Quote: “The three points we got on Wednesday put us in a good position to contend for a quarterfinal spot. We’re looking forward to Saturday’s game but it’s going to be a hard one.”
Team List: 1. Joseph KOMU (GK), 2. Haddis AENGARI, 3. Allen PETER, 4. Jason THOMAS, 5. Fred FAKARI, 6. Molea TIGI, 8. John ALICK, 9. Jerry DONGA, 10. Judd MOLEA, 11. Ian PAIA, 12. Albert WITNEY, 14. Augustine SAMANI, 16. Emmanuel POILA, 17. Gibson DAUDAU, 22. Bata FURAI, 23. Gagame FENI, 24. Kensi TANGIS, 28. Abraham BIRD (GK).
Coach: Moses TOATA (SOL)
Vital Statistics: A win or draw would confirm AS Dragon as Group B winners and earn a home quarterfinal. The Tahitian champions could even qualify if they lost depending on the scale of defeat and the result of the group’s other match.
The Players: Tamatoa Tetauira was the hero for the host club once again. After scoring twice in their opening win over Lossi, the captain netted twice in injury time to seal a remarkable 4-3 win over Erakor Golden Star that puts Dragon on the brink of of qualification for the quarterfinals.
Coach Quote: “I think my players can handle the pressure, we’re playing at home so we want to win every game. At the moment, we’re just focusing on recovering well.”
Team List: 1. Gilbert MERIEL (GK), 2. Victor SNOW, 3. Teata HAUATA, 5. Gabriel VAKOUME, 6. Hennel TEHAAMOANA, 7. Salomon TEVEPAUHU, 9. Samuel HNANYINE, 10. Marama VAHIRUA, 11. Rainui TZE-YU, 12. Logan LEDUC, 15. Sullivan DUEE, 16. Tamatoa TETAUIRA (c), 18. Louis PETITGAS, 21. Christophe GENDRON, 22. Clyde TINIAU, 23. Reynald LEMAITRE, 24. Teinaore SEINO, 30. Benjamin TARDIVEL (GK).
Coach: Timiona ASEN (TAH)