S-league Champions the Solomon Warriors did enough to edge past OFC Champions League newcomers AS Tiare Tahiti on the opening matchday of Group C at Noumea’s Stade Numa Daly.
Meanwhile the withdrawal of Tupapa Maraerenga FC from the tournament meant the Cook Islands qualifiers forfeited their match against hosts AS Magenta who were awarded an automatic 3-0 victory.
Solomon Warriors 1-0 AS Tiare Tahiti
With only three teams left in Group C following the departure of Tupapa, both sets of players knew how significant their opening encounter had become in their quest of advancing to the next stage of the competition.
Chances came at both ends during the lively opening exchanges with Warriors striker Gibson Daudau forcing a great save from Michael Manea with a well struck drive bulleting towards the target.
The French Polynesians responded courtesy of Bio Odo Chabi, their West African import from Benin, who found himself running at the keeper in a one-on-one situation before his final touch let him down allowing Timothy Maearasia to clear the danger.
AS Tiare skipper Tevaihau Tehuritaua produced a well-executed curling freekick on the Solomon’s goal before Dennis Ifunaoa came close for the Melanesian team by flashing narrowly wide of the post from inside box.
Despite a number of clear cut chances the two sides were forced to settle for a scoreless stalemate at the end of a highly competitive opening stanza.
Selson Molea’s men resumed with intent after the interval and Jerry Donga almost broke the deadlock with a pinpoint strike curling towards the top corner, which was brilliantly kept out by the diving Manea. .
The Tahitian keeper was in the thick of the action again just minutes later to deny John Alick’s conversion attempt from a penalty kick which was awarded for a foul on Molea Tigi inside the Tiare box.
Buoyed by their lucky escape the Tahitians poured forward looking for a winner with Tehuritaua and Odo Chabi both calling the Solomon keeper into action, but it wasn’t to be.
After weathering the storm, experienced Warriors striker Dennis Ifunaoa stepped up to produce the decisive moment by heading home from close range.
Despite a late surge by AS Tiare the Solomon Islanders held their nerves to hold onto their narrow advantage to the delight of their coach.
“It was a very hard game and we talked about this morning during our team talk, I told the boys that this game was very, very important to win,” Molea said
“I was disappointed that we missed a few chances and the penalty, it’s something for us to think about and try to work on, we need to convert our opportunities and when we get a penalty we have to put it away,” added the Solomon Warriors coach.
Meanwhile his Tahitian counterpart couldn’t hide his disappointment with the results.
“We really wanted to win this first game, and we had some chances to score but we couldn’t make them count,” lamented Vatea Terai.
“Our goalkeeper was in great form, he is a good player and he kept us in the game. He did a good job but unfortunately our forwards today couldn’t do their job at the other end,” explained,” the AS Tiare coach.
AS Tiare will next turn their focus to Wednesday’s crucial match against hosts AS Magenta.
The Solomon Warriors will need to wait till Saturday for their next match also against Magenta in the final encounter of Group C.
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