Team Wellington have got an early jump on their OFC Champions League rivals in Group B with a 4-1 win over Puaikura FC while Ba and host club Hienghène Sport battled to a 1-1 draw on Match Day one in Koné, New Caledonia.
Puaikura, who reached the group stage by winning last month’s Qualifier in Tonga, took a shock lead against the New Zealand champions when Andre Estay converted an 18th minute penalty and then held out their more fancied opponents until seven minutes before half time.
An own goal from Kimiora Samuela levelled the scores and Nathanael Hailemariam added Wellington’s second in first half injury time.
The Cook Islands champions defended stoutly throughout the second half but a goal to Joel Stevens in the 62nd minute and a second to Hailemariam with 20 minutes to go made life more comfortable for Wellington.
Team Wellington coach José Figueira was pleased with the way his side recovered from the early setback to claim a victory that ultimately sent them to the top of the group.
“We said to the players to expect the unexpected,” Figueira said.
“Obviously they had a few changes we really didn’t know what to expect in that first game and then probably told that we‘ll have a little bit of a slow start but I’m really proud of how we grew into the game and dominated.”
Puaikura coach Kevin Fallon was relatively pleased with his side’s effort against a team that has been to the last two OFC Champions League finals.
“I think as a club from a little nation for one they didn’t disgrace themselves that’s for sure,” he said.
“I thought we kept fighting and the team did better really. They didn’t stop they just kept going, took the early lead and it came down to maybe half an hour. So overall I am very pleased with them.”
The second match was a far tighter affair and more frantic as well with Fiji’s Ba and host club Hienghène Sports playing at breakneck speed for most of the 90 minutes.
Bertrand Kai eventually broke the deadlock from the spot when Ba conceded a 70th minute penalty for handball but the Fijian club’s captain Malakai Tiwa blasted an equaliser just as regulation time was up to keep alive both team’s hopes of earning Group B’s sole semi final spot.
Ba coach Imdad Ali said he had never given up hope that the equaliser would come.
“The boys were always pounding at the goal, so we knew it was always gonna come. It came a little bit late but it came and we’re happy,” he said.
“It was a good result and the boys played very well. It was great fast-paced football and I’m pretty happy with the performance of the boys.
Having got their nose in front, Hienghène Sport coach Felix Tagawa was clearly disappointed to let the win slip through their grasp.
“In the first half there were a few occasions when either side could have scored but the second half I thought was more Hienghene’s half,” Tagawa said.
“If I look just at their performance particularly in the second half then it’s not a fair result.”
Group B resumes on Wednesday with Puaikura facing Ba and Hienghène Sport taking on group leaders Team Wellington in the late kick off.
On Tuesday, Group A roars back into life in Noumea with leaders AS Central Sport from Tahiti playing Lupe Ole Soaga from Samoa and hosts AS Magenta squaring off against Papua New Guinea’s Madang FC.