INDEPENDENT NEWS

OFC Men's Champions League - Qualifying Delicately Poised Heading Into Match Day 3

Published: Tue 20 Feb 2024 08:56 PM
Tupapa Maraerenga FC have secured an important 14-0 win in a fiery encounter against a Vaiala Tonga SC that saw four players sent off at Teufaiva Stadium in Nuku’alofa.
Needing a win to keep their chances of advancing to the OFC Men’s Champions League in May, Tupapa Maraerenga made the perfect start – Gichin Fuhiniu producing the goal of the tournament so far, with an acrobatic bicycle kick to give his side the lead inside two minutes.
Then the flood gates opened with the Cook Islands side scoring in quick succession. Striker Lee Harmon expertly dispatched a loose ball in the box with some venom, before his brother Grover then got on the score sheet one minute later.
A fantastic solo dribble from Dylan Connolly set up Tupapa’s fourth of the match. The Irishman glided through Vaiala’s defence before his initial shot was saved by the goalkeeper, only to fall nicely to Lee Harmon who bagged his second.
When it looked like the goals had dried up, that man again Lee Harmon found himself on the end of a great cross to notch up his hat-trick.
Nearing half-time things got heated on the park between both sides. A scuffle led to a few punches thrown and red cards were shown to Vaiala Tonga defender David Tua and midfielder Vaha Tua, reducing their side to nine men.
It only got worse for Vaiala Tonga with Lee Harmon scoring his fourth and fifth goals in stoppage time prior to the half-time whistle.
Down to nine players Vaiala did well to hold Tupapa scoreless in the second half for the first quarter of an hour but their defence was finally cracked in the 67th minute, a great through ball for Connolly was tucked the ball away well.
The Irishman then played provider after making a great run through the Vaiala defence, before teeing up an easy tap in for Lee Harmon. The striker was in the action just minutes later, scoring his seventh of the match.
It became a matter of more goals towards the final whistle for Tupapa – Paea Fanua getting in on the action, notching the team’s 11th goal of the match.
Frustration and fatigue started to set in for Vaiala and Tupapa took full advantage, Fuhiniu made it 12, before substitute Marcus Gibbons added a 13th.
Tensions that had building throughout the match flared again in stoppage time. Some pushing and shoving resulted in a red card for Vaiala substitute Saia Jr. Afu and a second yellow card for golden boy Lee Harmon.
Then, with virtually the last kick of the game, Dylan Connolly drilled a low shot into the back of the net to cap off a 14-0 victory for Tupapa Maraerenga.
Tupapa Maraerenga FC: 14 (Gichin FUHINIU 1, 82, Lee HARMON 4, 16, 31, 45’+4, 45’+7, 73, 75, Grover HARMON 5, Dylan CONNOLLY 67, 90+10 Daniel TAOKIA 79, Marcus GIBBENS 84)|
Vaiala Tonga SC: 0
HT: 7-0
A stalemate between Veitongo FC and Vaivase-Tai FC leaves the OFC Men’s Champions League – Qualifier evenly poised heading into the final match day.
It was a tight tussle in the early stages of the match with both sides just happy to figure each other out, played against a backdrop of a passionate contingent of Samoan fans, who were doing their best to spur Vaivase-Tai to on.
Veitongo’s maestro Hemaloto Polovili set up the first chance of the match in the 12th minute, his through ball finding Elias Kendler who rounded Vaivase-Tai’s goalkeeper and looked certain to open the scoring only to be denied by the recovering Osa Savelio.
It was a scrappy affair throughout the middle stages of the first-half with neither side able to find clear cut chances in front of goal.
Polovili was pulling all the strings for Veitongo, providing a glorious chip over the top of Vaivase-Tai’s defence for winger Pita Uhatahi, who’s shot drifted wide of the goal in the 24th minute.
It took until just after the half hour mark for Vaivase-Tai to really test Veitongo’s defence. A great delivery from the right wing found its way to Falaniko Nanumea, who was just unable to redirect his header towards goal.
On the stroke of half-time, Veitongo goalkeeper Semisi Otukolo was called into action again, his sharp reflexes denying a golden chance at the near post for the Samoan side.
The intensity stepped up a notch in the second-half, as both sides went searching for that winning goal. Vaivase-Tai appearing to have broken the deadlock when substitute Tavita Togialeoli looked to have put the Samoan side up one-nil, only for his goal to be ruled offside.
That seemed to spark Vaivase-Tai into life, as they rattled off three great chances in the space of three minutes with Stanley Leavai coming the closest. His powerful header denied by the strong hands of Veitongo’s Otukolo in the 64th minute.
The opportunities were coming thick in and fast for Vaivase-Tai. Alman Kwan found himself on the end of a delightful pass only to blast his effort against the crossbar in the 68th minute – a golden chance gone begging for the side.
Vaivase-Tai had found their groove but just not their execution. Another through ball split Veitongo’s defence but a rushing Otukolo looked to have defused the situation. However, the ball ricocheted off him out to Vaa Taualai whose attempted chip shot just drifted over the top of the goal.
As the minutes ticked down neither side came truly close to finding what would have been a crucial winner and the scoreboard remained untouched as the referee blew the final whistle.
The result leaves the standings wide open heading into Friday’s final match day, with three of the four sides still in with a chance of qualifying for the OFC Men’s Champions League in Tahiti in May.
Veitongo FC: 0
Vaivase-Tai FC: 0
HT: 0-0

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