Ted Sikovi’s inspired performance couldn’t prevent Ba continuing
it’s unbeaten 2015 Fiji Airways OFC Champions League start.
Early on Tuesday the heavens opened, leading to a half-hour delay in kick-offs in both matches.
In the opening game, the home side Ba were cheered on by a loud local crowd who, despite the uncertainty over whether the match would be played, turned out in droves.
Standing in their way was Lupe Ole Soaga of Samoa, the qualifiers who exceeded everyone’s expectations with a surprise 3-3 draw in their opening match.
Lupe’s coach Paul Ualesi was looking to create more history by defeating an in-form Ba, who put away FC Gaitcha of New Caledonia with relative ease on Saturday night.
But the Men In Black proved a bridge too far for Ualesi’s side as they dominated the opening exchanges. Possession, territory and luck were on Shalen Lal’s side but his team simply couldn’t break the deadlock.
Keegan Linderboom and Saula Waqa ran riot up front for the home team, getting in behind on a number of occasions but just lacking the killer touch.
Linderboom could have had a brace by half-time but fired wide of the goal on both occasions, leaving Lal scratching his head.
Waqa and midfielder Malakai Tiwa struck the woodwork in the opening half hour before the Fijian under-20 striker broke the deadlock after 32 minutes.
The goal was all the work of right-back Manasa Nawakula, who drove past his defender, got to the by-line and delivered a cross that Waqa simply had to lean on to score into an empty net.
It looked as though, for the second time that day, the floodgates might open but the little-fancied Samoan unit had other ideas.
They scored with their first genuine chance on goal, five-goal hero in qualifying Silao Malo capitalising on a disastrous error at the back to streak clear and fire home five minutes later.
It was the 1000th OFC Champions League goal in history.
Perhaps at this stage Ualesi’s men could dare to dream of another upset but it was not to be, as Ba continued their dominance in the second spell.
They regained the advantage just a minute after the re-start and Waqa had his second, reacting first to a bobbled by Lupe goalkeeper Ted Sikovi to prod home.
The stopper was in fine form and stood between Ba and an even more flattering scoreline. Time and time again he smothered, dived and reacted to keep the visiting Samoans in the contest.
But it was game over just ten minutes after half-time, Waqa completing his hat trick in familiar circumstances after Sikovi had reacted brilliantly to palm away an effort from a fellow striker.
It was all Ba deserved and they could have added to the scoreline in the final half hour, Tiwa denied again by the woodwork after 64 minutes.
A minute later the midfielder drove wide after a magnificent double-save by Sikovi.
In truth a goal was all Tiwa deserved; he dominated the midfield well and kept in-form import Scott Gannon under control throughout the duration of the contest.
With fifteen minutes to play Suivai Ataga was dismissed for a second yellow and was joined moments later by substitute Oscar Amataga for dissent.
It was a disappointing way to go down, said Ualesi.
“Little mistakes cost us, as did our discipline,” he reflected. “We had one red card which had us down to ten men and we kept defending and defending.”
As with Saturday’s draw with Pirae, he credited his side’s resilience.
“Hard luck for the boys, we did well to come back and draw level 1-1 at half time. They did well to come back. But we made mistakes and Ba finished well.”
He says that the pre-match downpour didn’t prevent his side from enjoying themselves, nor did he attribute the loss to the conditions.
“We have no excuses. We enjoy ourselves, rain or sun,” he reflected. “We don’t complain about that.”
Ba coach Shalen Lal says he had expected the match to be called off, which affected his side’s preparations, but he was proud of the way his side responded.
“We have six points in the bag now,” he said. “Great win by the boys, an entire team performance. My under-20 striker Saula Waqa really stood out with his hat trick in this game.”
Anything better than a loss against Pirae on Saturday will ensure the home side tops Group A, while Lupe will search for its first victory in the tournament against Gaitcha.
In the second match, the New Caledonians raced to a 3-0 lead at the break over AS Pirae.
The sides traded half-changes in a cagy opening before Loic Wakanumune’s header opened the scoring after 24 minutes.
Earlier, Jay Warren had seen his goal-bound header parried onto the crossbar before a Gaitcha defender cleared the ensuring corner off his goal line.
But that was about as good as it got for Pirae as Kevin Coma’s side trebled their money in the ten minutes before half time.
First it was a beautiful individual goal by Jean Christ Wajoka before substitute Patrick Drawilo lifted a free-kick over the goalkeeper for a three goal halftime lead.
Pirae coach Samuel Garcia made two changes at the interval as he sought an unlikely comeback and four minutes after the re-start they had a goal back when Marc Vaki poked home after a scramble in the penalty area.
But Gaitcha always looked comfortable and responded well to the concession of a goal. Bertrand Kai led the line admirably and on another night might have scored a hat trick himself.
He unselfishly laid the ball on a platter for Wajoka to tap home his second after an hour.
With 20 minutes to play, Gaitcha were reduced to ten men when Jeremy Dokunengo was sent for an early shower.
But they continued to press and Kai found himself with more room up front than before, as Pirae continued to press for a passage back into the game.
The tireless former OFC Player of the Year finally wrote his name into the scoresheet with five minutes to play when he opted to break past his defender, and though Roonui Tinirauarii scored a consolation goal in the 88th minute, it was a disappointing night for Pirae which eliminates them from contention for the tournament’s semi-final stage.
Garcia says the result was deflating for his side’s confidence. “I don’t really feel like talking about the technical side today,” he said. “I’m more interested in speaking about the investment of the players, the moral that they have.
“I also want to congratulate my staff. In terms of speaking about the technical side, it was 5-2, that’s all I can say.”
Gaitcha’s Kevin Coma says Saturday’s humbling against Ba provided added motivation for Tuesday’s game.
“The boys were feeling vengeful after the first match,” he said. “The desire to try and do better, even if what we did in the first match wasn’t so bad.
We know the road is long, and we need to score a lot more goals to finish as best runners-up. We will fight to the end, the boys have confidence in each other and we’ll be looking to finish in the best way possible.”
The three points lifts Gaitcha into second spot on Group A and keeps their hopes of a debut appearance in the knockout phase alive.
Group A action continues from Govind Park in Ba on Saturday April 18 with Lupe taking on Gaitcha at 4:30pm before league-leaders Ba face Pirae at 7pm.
Waqa shines, Malo makes history, Gaitcha off the mark
Ted Sikovi’s inspired performance couldn’t prevent Ba continuing