Oceania champs run halted
Defending OFC O-League champions Auckland City were held to a 1-1 draw against AS Magenta in Noumea on Saturday opening the way for cross-city rivals Waitakere United to overhaul them at the top of Group A. Waitakere’s match against Tahiti’s AS Manu Ura was postponed following a week of heavy rain in Papeete, with a new match date yet to be confirmed.
Paul Posa’s Auckland side, featuring newly capped All White Chad Coombes, got off to the perfect start at Stade Numa Daly with James Pritchett and Adam Dickinson combining well to set up Daniel Koprivcic in the 13th minute for his sixth goal in five O-League matches. However Magenta continued to apply pressure and were rewarded with a goal to Andre Sinedo in the 53rd minute to level the score in a match of high intensity which saw four second-half yellow cards issued.
The draw leaves Auckland on 11 points, three more than Waitakere who have a game in hand while Magenta remain off the pace in third spot ahead of Manu Ura. Auckland will now await the outcome of the postponed fixture before facing Waitakere in the final group match on 28 March – a game that will ultimately decide who goes through to the O-League home-and-away final to play off for a spot at the FIFA Club World Cup.
Meanwhile Group B remains well poised with three teams still in the hunt for a berth in the final following the penultimate matchday. Solomon Islands’ star Henry Fa'arodo scored the only goal of the game to lift Hekari United top and deny Fiji’s Lautoka who could have claimed a place in the O-League final with three points. Fa'arodo’s 54th minute strike leaves Hekari in prime position to be the first club from Papua New Guinea to reach the continental decider. It was a costly 90 minutes for Lautoka with lethal striker Osea Vakatalesau and Marika Robanakadavu both given their marching orders in the second half meaning they will miss the final group match.
Hekari moved to the top of Group B on ten points while Lautoka drop to second, one point off the pace. Vanuatu's Tafea are still in contention on eight points after their scoreless draw with Solomon Islanders Marist on Saturday. Hekari will look to beat Marist FC at Lawson Tama Stadium later this month to top Group B, while Lautoka and Tafea will both need a win - and the Marist-Hekari match to go their way - to have any hope of advancing.