Erakor and Wellington draw first blood in Group C

Hosts Erakor Golden Star edged past a spirited Kiwi FC side from Samoa to emulate the feat of defending champions Team Wellington who earlier overcame a well organised Ba FC from Fiji to share top spot in Group C at the conclusion of the opening match day of the OFC Champions League 2019 tournament at Port Vila’s Korman Stadium.

Team Wellington’s title defence could not have started any better as the men from the New Zealand capital stamped their mark early with a period of controlled possession to move Ba around the pitch, with playmakers Mario Illich and Aaron Clapham in particular dictating terms.

After nine minutes, a killer ball from Nati Hailemariam unlocked Ross Allen, whose cutback was steered home by Aaron Clapham to give the reigning champions an early advantage.

Allen went from provider to finisher eight minutes later with a predatory strike after  instinctively pouncing on a poor defensive clearance to beat  Ba keeper Josaia Ratu.

The sweltering conditions started to take their toll, with a noticeable drop in tempo and despite the occasional attacking probe from the ‘Men in Black’, Jose Figueira’s men went to the break with their two goal lead intact.

Ba emerged for the second spell a different team, signalling their intent with an enterprising opening 15 minutes.

Their best chance of the half came when Ratu Dau forced an outstanding save from Scott Basalaj, after getting the better of the retreating Illich.

Thereafter Wellington were able to soak up the pressure, looking to strike on the break via direct balls into hard running target man Angus Kilkolly but despite creating numerous chances, they were unable to add to the scoreline.

Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira was delighted with his players’ effort.

“Perfect start for my team, the first game is always so difficult, especially when we are travelling.

“I thought today the attitude was number one and professionalism was number two so very happy with the start,” he explained.

“You always want to start the game quickly and we did exactly that today and from there we could control the game and manage and the pressure goes onto the other team.

“Ba had a very good start to the second half, made life very difficult, but when we dealt with that we maybe could have got a couple of more goals, but look very happy today,” added the Team Wellington coach.

His Fijian counterpart Ronil Kumar meanwhile, was left to rue their lacklustre start to the match.

“We were too defensive at first and that’s the reason why we conceded two early goals, we didn’t press enough, but we talked with the boys in the break and told them to go back to our game plan in the second half, so from there on they executed the way we wanted play from the start.

“Overall I’m happy with my team’s performance, they really worked hard, and especially in the second half they really played the way we planned to play, only the goal didn’t come unfortunately for us, but the boys played really well,” said the Ba coach.

Courtesy of Oceania Football Federation