The OFC Champions League 2023 National Play-Off action moved to Solomon Islands and Vanuatu on Wednesday night, with two fist leg match ups between local powerhouse clubs. In Honiara, Solomon Warriors and Kossa FC shared the spoils, while Ifira Black Bird struck a major blow in their bid to make the main draw over Siaraga (LFA) FC in Port Vila.
Tight contest in Honiara
Both sides settled for a 1-1 draw in an often ill-tempered game.
Solomon Warriors came flying out of the blocks early at Lawson Tama Stadium as they aimed to get back into the OFC Champions League this year, with Harrison Mala getting on the end of a long pass within the first two minutes, but his goal bound shot was scrubbed out for offside.
From there things settled down as the teams worked each other around in midfield, with Mala and John Alick seeing a lot of touches for Warriors, while on the other side Henly Ramo and Molis Junior Gagame did their best to shut them down.
It took till just before halftime for the deadlock to be broken. Gagame Feni from Kossa struck in the 43rd minute to spark wild celebrations, but the joy only lasted till just after the break.
Warriors fought back to create a chance for Aengari Gagame, who slotted home to make the scores even in a close fought game. However, the drama had only just started as referee Timothy Niu issued a second yellow to Emmanuel Poila, then reversed the call only to consult with his assistants and uphold the original call.
It was a busy day with the cards, as Molis Junior Gagame, Innocent Sinahanua and Timothy Bakale from Kossa were all cautioned too.
Both sides played out the remainder of the match in a defensive mode, with an eye on the crucial rematch in a few days’ time.
KOSSA FC 1 (Gagame FENI 43′)
SOLOMON WARRIORS 1 (Aengari GAGAME 54′)
Ifira takes big advantage in Port Vila
A powerful volley by Kerry Iawak provided the momentum for Ifira Blackbird to take an important lead in the Vanuatu National Play-Off at VFF Freshwater Stadium. After that strike, the way was open for them to take a <score> win over Siaraga into the second leg in a few days.
Up until that point in the 54th minute, it was anyone’s game. Siaraga probably had the better of a very cagey first half that saw a few hard challenges but no really clear chances on goal.
That all changed after the break, when Godine Tenene did really well to pull down a quick throw in and pop over a perfect cross into the area. It was played down to Iawak, who spun and blasted a magnificent shot past goalkeeper <name> to give Ifira the lead and the hearty crowd a reason to jump and shout.
It also seemed to take the sting out of Siaraga, after that Ifira kept the pressure on and won a corner in the 63rd minute. While the initial header was well saved, Alphonse Lensy was there to pounce on the loose ball and double the lead for his team.
By the time the third, conclusive goal came for Ifira, Siaraga were enjoying a brief foray into the opposition penalty area. However, it was quickly turned into a counterattack by John Wohale, who sent a lovely long pass out wide to Tenene, who in turn put in a perfect cross to land at Tonly Kalotong’s feet. He needed no further invitation and struck the ball home to complete the scoring.
The two sides meet again back at VFF Freshwater Stadium on Saturday, but it will be a big ask for Siaraga to pull back this aggregate already.
IFIRA BLACK BIRD 3 (Kerry IAWAK 53’ Alphonse LENSY 63’ Tonly KALOTONG 78’)
SIARAGA (LFA) FC 0