SOURCE: OFC Website
NUKUALOFA, TONGA, 3 FEBRUARY 2017: Lupe Ole Soaga have scraped through their final OFC Champions Qualifier encounter with a 1-1 draw against Veitongo to join Puaikura FC in the OFC Champions League Group Stage.
Puaikura opened the day’s action at Loto-Tonga Soka Centre in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, securing their place at the top of the table with a 3-1 win against Utulei Youth.
The match started slow, not seeing a goal until additional time in the first half when Pekay Edwards put his side ahead after getting his toe to the ball in a period of scrappy play in the Utulei Youth penalty box.
Edwards increased the margin only 10 minutes into the second half but a moment of complacency allowed Utulei Youth to tighten the gap when the American Samoans caught the Cook Islanders off-guard and Elama Faatonu found the back of the net.
Utulei Youth gave everything in defence but Maro Bonsu-Maro regained the two goal lead for Puaikura in the last minutes of the match with his fourth goal of the competition.
Puaikura coach Matt Calcott was on the edge of his seat for moments in the match but overall believed his side’s performance was a good finish to a good tournament.
“We looked pretty tired in the first half to be honest, we weren’t getting to the ball first and our combinations weren’t great but second half, the rain gave the boys a little bit of a lift and we had a number of chances, the only thing I’d fault was our finishing,” he said.
“Credit to the American Samoa side, I thought they did really well and were really structured.
“Now we need to go away and prepare well to ensure the Puaikura boys get to grips with the next stage early. It will be a big step up for a lot of these guys.”
Despite Utulei Youth’s three losses, coach Pita Sinapati was very proud of their performance throughout the competition, especially in their battle against Puaikura.
“I give the boys big credit. It was a great team effort,” he said.
“I told them there was just one more game so give everything and leave it all on the field and that’s what they did.”
Lupe Ole Soaga vs Veitongo
The late match drew a large Tongan crowd as Lupe Ole Soaga and Veitongo battled for qualification.
Neck-and-neck in the first half, both sides battling for possession in the middle of the park between breakaways to either goal, but neither side could find the net and match remained scoreless at the half time whistle.
Veitongo had a chance to take the lead when senior squad member Kilifi Uele stepped up to the penalty spot but the 42-year-old was unable to get the finish he wanted.
The first goal was not until the 66th minute when Lupe Ole Soaga captain Suivai Ataga charged down the right wing and fired the ball past Mahe Malafu and into the back of the net.
The Tongans lifted for the last 30 minutes and OFC Champions League Qualifier veteran Lafaele Moala scored the equalizer in the 89th minute after being passed the ball around Faalavelave Matagi and dribbling into goal. Unfortunately for the home side the final whistle came too soon and their hopes of an historic qualification on home soil were dashed.