AS Dragon and Solomon Warriors qualified for the quarterfinals of the OFC Champions League after a 2-1 win to Warriors over the host club confirmed them both in the top two of Group B in Tahiti on Saturday (local time).
The three points lifted Warriors above Erakor Golden Star who were held to a 2-2 draw by AS Lossi in the opening match, but the Honiara outfit couldn’t find an additional goal to leapfrog Dragon at the top of the table and claim home advantage when the quarterfinal draw is made.
Instead, Dragon claim that honour by merit of an additional goal scored throughout the group stage after finishing level on points and goal difference with the Solomon Island champions.
AS Dragon coach Timiona Asen’s mixed feelings at the result ultimately gave way to a satisfaction at his club’s progression to the playoff stages as group winners.
“I’m a bit disappointed with this result because our first objective was to win tonight and to play right until the end,” Asen said.
“I think our players were a little bit thrown by the Solomons’ game. I’m happy to have qualified, and we’ve had confirmation that we will host the quarterfinal and I’ll try and rebuild the team for the next stage.”
Kensi Tangis put Warriors ahead in the 22nd minute but his side couldn’t put the hosts away with Dragon goalkeeper Gilbert Meriel in stubborn form to prevent further damage.
Rainui Tze-Yu equalised for the home side with 13 minutes remaining but Judd Molea restored the lead from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute as Hennel Tehaamoana earned his marching orders for a second caution leaving his side a man short for the final stages.
Salomon Tevapauhu also joined him back in the dressing room after he too earned a red card for a second bookable offence in time added on.
Having seen Erakor drop points earlier in the day, Moses Toata’s Warriors side could have progressed with a draw but a two-goal winning margin would have earned a quarterfinal in Honiara.
“We came into this game, we wanted to win because we needed to qualify,” said Toata.
“The boys played hard, they did what they needed to and got the win. They fought for every ball.”
Erakor were nervous spectators for the evening kick-off after their point against Lossi but they waited fruitlessly for a Dragon victory to send them into the last eight instead of Warriors.
A four-goal victory for Golden Star over Lossi would have been enough to book a quarterfinal place regardless of the result in the second match and the Vanuatu clubs made a perfect start in that quest, with Bernard Daniel scoring in just the third minute.
But Lossi fought back through a Mone Womowe goal just before the half hour mark on the back of an aggressive approach that put Erakor off their stride and adjust their sights on securing any sort of victory.
Jonathan Kakou rattled the crossbar in the 34th minute with an audacious attempt from just short of halfway as Lossi pressed their advantage and a second goal eventually came for the Noumea club five minute later as defensive indecision allowed Damien Wanapopo to poke the ball past Serge Daniel.
Erakor were brighter in the second half and drew level through Barry Mansale six minutes after the restart but couldn’t manufacture a winning goal to put more pressure on Solomon Warriors.
Erakor coach Obed Jimmy was clearly disappointed with his players’ application in such a vital match.
“After the second match, maybe we were tired. The game isn’t what we saw today. That’s not our game,” he said.
“It wasn’t the preparation that was lacking, it was mentality. We’d seen the other teams beating Lossi well – for me it wasn’t easy it was hard. We can play harder but if the mind doesn’t function properly, it’s not good enough.”
AS Lossi coach Victor Wejieme was pleased to grab a first OFC Champions League point after five previous defeats for the club at this level.
“Firstly, I want to congratulate Erakor Golden Star because they played well today. My players also played well. We didn’t want to return home like that, we wanted a win or if not a win, at least what we achieved today.”
Wejieme said the campaign had whet the appetite for a return to Oceania’s premier club competition.
“We’ll try to be among the best this year in order to make it into the Champions League in the future.”
The OFC Champions League now takes a week-long breather before resuming with Group D action from Honiara’s Lawson Tama Stadium on February 24 followed by Group C from Trusts Stadium in Auckland a day later.