Tupapa Marerenga booked their place in the 2018 Oceania Champions League competition with a comprehensive 9-2 demolition of nine-man Veitonga at the qualifying tournament in American Samoa. The Tongan champions were put to the sword by the Cook Islands champions as English striker Sean Latimer and New Zealand-based forward Maro Bonsu-Maro both notched hat-tricks. The other goals came from Hone Fowler (2) and Grover Harmon.
Tupapa Maraerenga started the game well and after they took an early lead through Latimer, who sprung the offside trap and tapped home after linking well with Bonsu-Maro. It was 2-0 just 11 minutes later when Latimer beat four defenders and the keeper on a mazy run from out wide.
Tupapa appeared in control, but a moment of madnesss from Veitonga’s Soakai Vea, who went from hero to villain in the space of 10 seconds, effectively ended the contest after 35 minutes. The Tonga raced through on goal and was brought down in the box, earning his side a controversial penalty and offering them a lifeline in the match. However, Vea’s reaction was to aim a headbutt at Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri, which earned him a straight redi card.
Although Veitonga scored the penalty, Tupapa’s one-man advantage was to prove crucial in the dying moments of the first half as first Fowler and then Bonsu-Maro went clean through on goal to score after 55 minutes, and Harmon finished off another slick passing move midway through the half to make it six.
Veitonga were clearly tiring, and when Sione Uhatahi was sent off for desperate lunge on Bonsu-Maro the only question remaining was how many more goals Tupapa would score. The answer was three, as first Latimer, with a header, and then Bonsu-Maru, again outpacing the defence, completed their hat-tricks. Fowler added the ninth goal in injury time.
The only blot on the second half performance was a last-second penalty to Veitonga, converted by Vai Lutu, but 9-2 remains a convincing scoreline.
The win secures Tupapa a place in the Oceania Champions League Group Stage, which begins next month, and if they avoid defeat in their final game against Pago Youth they will be crowned champions and rewarded with an easier draw in the main tournament playing in Vanuatu rather than Solomon Islands.
Afterwards coach Alex Napa said it was good to have two wins in the bag.
“One more game to go and we hope that we can put a decent team in for the last game and make a good job of it at the last hurdle,” he said.
Napa said the heat had a significant part to play in the outcome of the match and priased his players for keeping their cool, while undisciplined Veitonga lost theirs.
“Sometimes heat has a way of levelling things a bit. I think for both teams it was just a bit frustrating, the heat got to both teams I think and I’m really glad that my boys composed themselves a little bit more,” he said.
“We could see it, it does that to the players on a hot day like this and it’s good to come away with a good result.”
And despite guaranteeing their place in the next round Napa insisted that he would not allow his players to take it easy in the final match, as there were aspects of their game that needed attention.
“Im going to insist my players, from the opening whistle to the closing one, need to be on the top of our game. It’s the little thigns that are starting to affect the game plan”.