OFC Champions League Qualifier 2018 opens with fierce competition

tony@samoanews.com

The 2018 Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Champions League Qualifiers officially opened last Saturday afternoon at the FFAS Pago Park Soccer Stadium, with a double header that saw only one team losing out of the four – Lupe o le Soaga from Samoa suffered a 1 - 0 loss against Tupapa Maraerenga FC from Cook Islands after a brutal match up that injured numerous players on the field.

Coverage of the 2018 OFC Champions League Qualifiers is sponsored by Congresswoman Aumua Amata. 

The second match up of the day was a draw between Veitongo FC from Tonga, and Pago Youth who is representing American Samoa in the competition – they tied 1 - 1.        

The OFC Champions League Qualifier 2018 is for the National League Champions of four countries – American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga. The tournament winner and runner-up will advance to the second stage of the OFC Champions League 2018, which will be the group stage that will be hosted in four countries: Vanuatu (Group A), Tahiti (Group B), New Zealand (Group C) and the Solomon Islands (Group D).           

Group A’s competition, hosted at the FFAS Pago Park Soccer Stadium, continues today at 12pm with the first match between Veitongo FC from Tonga and Tupapa Maraerenga FC from the Cook Islands; the following match, which is scheduled for 3pm, will feature Pago Youth who will face Lupe o le Soaga for the first time in the OFC tournament.  

COOK ISLANDS, 1 - SAMOA, 0

This was by far the most physical and tense match up of the day, between the Samoans and the Cook Islanders – a brutal match between the two that resulted in numerous injuries as well as penalties against players from both teams.

Refereeing the match was David Yareboinen of Papua New Guinea who didn’t hesitate to send a player from Lupe o le Soaga off the field with a red card during the second half of the match, which left Samoa with only 10 players, against the Cook Islands' 11 players.        

Throughout the opening half of the match, both teams stood their ground and had a fair weight in both defense and upfront.   

Unfortunately for Samoa, Tupapa Maraerenga FC was able to capitalize during the second half of the match from the red card incident again Samoa’s team.

With just over 20 minutes of play, Referee Yareboinen sent Va’a Taualai from Lupe o le Soaga off the field with a red card, after a scuffle between Taualai and Cambell Best at midfield – meanwhile, Best was warned with a yellow card. A call that Best argued, which later led to him being benched by Head Coach Alex Napa.

Even the coaches on both teams were heated as they had an exchange of words from within the coach boxes as the match progressed.        

Midway through the second half of play and the Cook Island team was able to force the ball on to Samoa’s territory with some strategic passes and lobs. Lupe o le Soaga’s fullback Andrew Setefano drew a penalty against them, after tackling Maro Bonsu-Maro from behind, inside the box, alerting a penalty that would cost them the match.    

The penalty was a lucky break for Tupapa Maraerenga FC, as their striker Sean Latimer struck the ball off the upright from the penalty spot to take the lead which they held onto for the remainder of the game, giving them their first victory of the tournament.

AMERICAN SAMOA, 1 – TONGA, 1        

The second and final match up the day was between Pago Youth representing American Samoa, led by Head Coach Li’atama Amisone Jr., and the Veitongo FC team from Tonga led by Head Coach Timote Moleni. Refereeing this match was Veer Singh from Fiji.    

It was an evenly fair match up between the two, with both scoring for a tie-up match.

On the 14th minute of the first half, when Veitongo’s striker Vai Lutu was tackled from behind by Pago Youth’s captain Ryan Samuelu – causing the first penalty of the game inside the box, giving Veitongo FC a chance to face Pago Youth’s Eti Fatu at goalie as Samuelu was warned with a yellow card.

The free kick inside the penalty box by Veitongo’s Soakai Vea netted the first goal for Tonga – but the sideline official signaled an off-side, hence overturning the decision of a goal. Both teams were scoreless at this point.

But midway through the first half of play, Pago Youth was given a free penalty kick from midfield – Nissan Silao shot a long one that would bounce just short of Veitongo’s goal keeper Motekiai Faupula’s reach – bouncing over him and into the goal for the first score of the game — by American Samoa.  

Pago Youth held on to their lead into half-time – but when the second half opened, Samoa News saw a different look from our local team, as their strategy changed from being aggressive, to being conservative, as the majority of possessions in the second half were played inside Pago Youth territory.        

The strategy for Pago cost them the lead, as Veitongo brought on the pressure – utilizing good passing strategy inside the box that would later reward them with their first goal of the game, when Veitongo FC’s team captain Sione Uhatahi shot the tying goal right in front of the box and through traffic – to tie up the match 1 - 1 

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