Tupapa proceeds to group stage as they hold Veitongo to a draw

The last match of the OFC Champions League preliminary stage sealed the last spot in the group stage of the 2020 edition of the regional tourament. Once again a Samoan and a Cook Islander side proceeded to the group stage, as it was in all other opportunities of the competition.

Veitongo from Tonga and the Cook Islands champions Tupapa Maraerenga faced each other in Ngahue Reserve in Auckland with a good number of supporters of both sides. The Tongans saw their to get a shocking a lead in the first minutes of the game after Sione Uhatahi long ball fell into the talented Hemaloto Polovili feet, the striker had no hesitation and sent the ball to the low corner of Tupapa goalkeeper Tahiri Elikana.

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Veitongo players celebrate their early goal – OFC Media

The early goal was giving the result the Tongans needed: a win would knock-out Tupapa Maraerenga and qualify Veitongo for the first time intot the group stages.

But the lead did not take long: after a good combination play, André Estay was found unmarked inside the box – a lapse of concentration of the goalkeeper Sinilau Taufa and his defenders allowed the Chilean number 9 to find the nets and equalize the match for the Cook Islanders.

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Estay celebrates his goal – OFC Media

Veitongo would throw themselves upfront to find their so needed goal even in the first half. The likes of Tupou Uhatahi and Hemaloto Polovili were very dangerous for the defenders of the Cook Isalands side.

After a foul in 30-meters position, Hemaloto Polovili took his time and take the ball for another attempt. The Tongan international made no mistake even from far distance, giving no chance for Tupapa Maraerenga goalkeeper, placing the ball at the top corner – putting his side once again upfront.

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Hemaloto and his celebrate celebrate their second goal – OFC Media

The first half ended with the 2-1 result in favour of the Tongans – enough to proceed to the next stage. Unfortunately for Veitongo, just five minutes later from the first whistle of the second half, a good combination play left the experienced Harlem Simiona upfront the goalkeeper Sinilau Taufa, that could not reach the ball first than the Cook Islands international that found the nets once again for his side. Tupapa had once again equalized the encounter, in another defensive mistake from the Tongan side.

The Cook Islanders were surely not in a good day, having a lot of difficulties with the artificial turf – losing easy balls with bad controls. The Tongans that seemed more used to it took advantage and continue to press them – the second goal was much celebrated for Tupapa, they know it was a very important achievement.

The combination between Tupou Uhatahi and Hemaloto Polovili continued to work: both players created the most important chances for Veitongo in the second half – the first one Hemaloto could not find a good angle to finish, the second Tupou notched a good cross to area, finding his teammate that with a powerful shot had his hattrick denied by Tahiri Elikana with a fantastic save with this right leg.

The Cook Islanders created some chances as well in counter-attacks, but the Tongan stopper Sinilau Taufa managed well to stop the fast-breaks from the black and white side. You can watch the full highlights of the game by clicking here.

Unfortunately for the Tongans and with some luck for the Cook Islanders, the match ended with a 2-2 draw, enough to qualify Tupapa Maraerenga once again for the group stage – the team will be certainly hoping to do a better campaign than in the 2019 edition. The Tongans just by a goal could not proceed for their first ever group stage in the modern era of OFC Champions League, but they certainly have something to celebrate from.

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The last image of the OFC Champions League preliminary stage – OFC Media

Lupe o le Soaga from Samoa and Tupapa Maraerenga from Cook Islands are qualified for the group stage: the Samoans will play in Tahiti, alongside the hosts AS Vénus, the New Zealand powerhouse Auckland City and the Fijian champions Ba.

Tupapa Maraerenga will be playing in another French territory, they are grouped alongside the current OFC Champions League runners-up AS Magenta, the Solomon Islands champions Solomon Warriors and the Tahitian first-timers AS Tiare Tahiti. To check the full schedule of the competiton, you can visit our section of the 2020 OFC Champions League.

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