Tupapa football goalkeeper Tahiri Elikana performed heroics to repel repeated assaults on his goal, in last night’s critical Oceania club match-up.
Samoan club Lupe Ole Soaga SC needed only a draw to progress to the group stages, as they had already played and beaten Tonga’s Veitongo FC.
But a draw would also be enough to keep Cook Islands champions Tupapa Maraerenga’s hopes alive – and that is what Elikana gave them.
The game was scoreless, tied 0-0 at the end.
The Samoan side had the better of the contest and looked the most likely to put a goal on the board – particularly during the second half – but Tupapa were able to repel their advances.
Elikana was kept busy throughout the match, played in Auckland, but Lupe also didn’t test him as much as they would have liked.
Tupapa is going for a three-peat – for the past two years the team has made it through to the group stages.
Coach Anthony Samuela hailed “an awesome game played by our lads” against Lupe Ole Soaga.
“I am happy regarding their overall performance, with a few minor adjustments we can work on before our match against Tonga's Veitongo on Friday.
“What we have now is perfect. We just need to keep up the training and work as a team if we want to succeed in our campaign.
“We have worked hard to be here and we will keep working hard to accomplish what we came here for.”
He said he was super proud of Tahiri's performance in the match and has proved why he is the number goal keeper.
But Samuela was left to lament their lack of strike power up front.
“It’s not the result that we wanted but it’s alright. A game’s a game, so we move forward as a team,” Samuela said.
“Just the front third, we just need to put it away. We got a few chances but just couldn’t put it away.”
Lupe coach Paul Ualesi said he was very happy with the result. “I know we did not get the win, but a draw takes us through to the next stage of the tournament – congratulations to my boys.
“This was much better than the first game.”
Lupe skipper Andrew Setefano led from the front for his team, while fellow defender Suivai Ataga was busy throughout the contest.
Setefano could have given his side the victory with a powerful header from a corner in the dying stages but it was cleared off the line.
Tuesday’s result means Thursday’s final match between Veitongo and Tupapa in Auckland will decide which other team grabs a spot in the group stages of this year’s Champions League.
The winner of the Qualifying Stage will join Group D in the Champions League which includes Auckland City FC (New Zealand), Ba FC (Fiji) and AS Venus (Tahiti).
The runner-up will enter Group C featuring AS Magenta (New Caledonia), AS Tiare Tahiti (Tahiti) and the Solomon Warriors (Solomon Islands). – OFC