|Team Wellington have qualified for the semi-finals of the OFC Champions League in emphatic style, thrashing Fijian champions Ba FC 8-0 in their Group B decider in Koné, New Caledonia on Saturday night.
The New Zealand champions just needed a draw in to secure a place in the final four but a clinical wet-weather display in torrential rain put an exclamation point on their qualification.
In the day’s later kick-off, Group B hosts Hienghéne Sport signed off from their maiden OFC Champions League campaign with a 3-1 win over Cook Islands qualifiers Puaikura FC.
A Tom Jackson hat trick lead the way for Team Wellington with the striker opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the 19th minute.
Shortly after the goal, goalkeeper Josaia Ratu who had been injured before the penalty was stretchered off the field for a second time and eventually flown to hospital for treatment.
The injury rattled Ba, as did Wellington’s second goal – a 33rd minute Ben Harris header – and in the eighth minute of a lengthy injury time Mario Barcia gave Wellington a three-goal cushion.
Harris added his second six minute into the second half and before the hour mark was reached Jackson add added another two of his own to complete his hat trick. Goals to substitute Nicolas Zambrano and midfielder Leo Villa added further padded to the scoreboard.
Team Wellington coach José Figueira was delighted with the manner of his side’s qualification.
“The mission here was obviously to qualify for the semi-finals and it was always going to be a tough group,” he said.
“I’m really proud of the way we did it today and the style we did it. Importantly we kept our standards high. We’re very happy.”
Ba’s coach Imdad Ali, whose side needed to beat Wellington to reach the semi finals, admitted the result was difficult to stomach.
“It was very tough match, I think we lost to a very good team, they have some very professional players in there but with the weather and conditions and the injury to our goalkeeper there were a few factors that affected us,” Ali said.
“But this is football and sometimes it may not be your day.”
The downpour that drenched the first game had subsided by kick-off in the second and Hienghène were quick out of the blocks trying to stretch a stubborn Puaikura defence through the sheer pace of their attacks.
It took just seven minutes for Hienghène to fashion their first goal, passing through the thirds before captain Bertrand Kai raced onto a through ball and stabbed the ball past Liam Little.
Puaikura battled back and Andre Estay equalised with a stooping header in the 29th minute before Kai restored the lead with five minutes remaining in the half.
A scuffle erupted between players from both sides with 20 minutes to go and when play restarted from a free kick, Puaikura switched off long enough for Yvanoe Bamy to nod in the home side’s third and make the match comfortable.
“We were the walking wounded in the end,” said Puaikura coach Kevin Fallon.
“I thought 3-1 was a bit hard on us and 2-1 might’ve been more respectable. Losing a goal, particularly after that fracas, scoring off the free kick immediately after I found that a bit tough to take.”
“But I couldn’t ask any more from this team.”
Hienghène Sport coach Felix Tagawa was happy to finish with a win but was still lamenting what might have been in a demanding format where only the four group winners progress to the semi finals.
“It’s nice to win this match and finish on a positive note but we have to put it in context,” Tagawa said.
“We look back at the Wellington match and the goal that lost us that game and think that things could’ve been much different. We could’ve been playing tonight to finish top of the group.
Team Wellington will join AS Magenta in the ssemi-finals after the New Caledonia club toped Group A in Noumea on Friday.
The OFC Champions League takes a breather for a week before Group C and D kick off on Saturday March 11.
Auckland City FC host Malampa Revivors (Vanuatu), Western United (Solomon Islands) and Lae City Dwellers (Papua New Guinea) in Mangere.
Meanwhile, Tahiti’s AS Tefana host Erakor Golden Star (Vanuatu), Marist FC (Solomon Islands) and Rewa (Fiji) in Papeete.