In an epic final day of the OFC champions league 2019 – Qualifying round held at the CIFA complex on Friday, all teams battled out with pride to end their tournament on a high note.
Tupapa Maraerenga Trailed 1-0 at half time before making a comeback in the second half against Pago Youth FC of the final game.
Tupapa Maraerenga were relentless with constant attacking plays on the Pago Youth defense, dominating possession and territory throughout the game. They weren’t very clinical, however, as they were unable to find the back of the net several times which looked to frustrate the players and drop their focus.
Pago Youth seizing the moment used that to their advantage by placing the ball in behind the aggressive Tupapa defense for Walter Pati to run onto before the Tupapa defenders and score the first goal of the game.
With the second half underway, it looked like Tupapa had gathered themselves again. Looking strong in first few minutes of the second half with Fauzul Ahmed firing one in, to level the scores for Tupapa.
Contest for the ball picked up and both teams battled it out. Possession constantly switched and counter plays occurred often. However, it was Harlem Simiona who came through for Tupapa Maraerenga honing in on his target scoring from a set piece put in by Willynn Karika in the 89thminute, to finish the game and the tournament on top.
Tupapa coach Delaney Yaqona paid tribute to their opponents after the hard-fought win.
“Hats off to Pago Youth, and the one thing you can’t fault in island football is passion.
“They certainly bought the passion, you could hear in their chant before the game, and they made it so hard for us, and at the end of the day we were our own worse enemies because we knew what they were going to do and we didn’t deal with it in the first half, eventually it came in the second half, so we are happy to take the win,” Yaqona explained.
Shifting his focus to the Group Stage, the Tupapa coach is confident his players will be up for the challenge.
“The Champions League is obviously the most prestigious tournament in the whole of the Pacific so for Tupapa from the Cook Islands, one of the teams from the bottom four countries to make it to that stage, it is a very big thing and not only for the village but for the Island.
“We will prepare hard to tackle the top teams in the next phase of the competition,” he said.
Despite leaving the Cook Islands with three defeats, Pago Youth coach Rambo Tapui was also pleased with the way his side improved throughout the tournament and he remains optimistic about the future.
“I’m very happy with the performance, I feel positive and I’m sticking with this young team.
“They are still at an early age and I know they will Improve for the next tournament they will come back to,” the Pago Youth coach added.
The first game of the day was fought out by Samoan side Kiwi FC and Tongan Champs Loto Ha’apai United. Kiwi FC, not showing any sign of weakness, held strong in defense and thumped Loto Ha’apai 9-1 in a game dominated by the Samoan side.
Martin Tamasese, Kiwi FC Coach praised his team following their impressive victory, “I’m so proud of the boys and the result.
“Our strength is our speed and our technical side, so we worked really hard on that which helped us to pressure Lotoha’apai and helped to score a lot of goals,” the former Samoa international added.
Lui Muavesi disappointed with the result had a few things to say as well stating “It was a disappointing game for me as a coach, the boys didn’t do what we had planned.
“The slow start once again hit us badly, in the first 20 minutes they had already three goals, really we lost it in the first ten minutes,” the native Fijian lamented.