The match opener of the OFC Champions League surely entertained a lot the fans at Soccer City Stadium in Luganville, but surely made their coaches worried about their defensive display. Lae City, the champions of Papua New Guinea, and Henderson Eels started the group B held in Vanuatu, where a brace from Emmanuel Simon and Tutizama Tanito made both sides end a hard fought draw.
The match started with a mistake from Eels’ goalkeeper Desmond Tutu, but for the luck of his side could not turn into a goal for Lae City. But, just in the following minute, a good play by Raymond Gunemba found Emmanuel Simon free inside the box, just to tap the ball to the low corner of Tutu to put his side ahead.
Lae continued to pressure in order to score a second goal, being dangerous for the defensive system led by Freddie Kini. It took some time for Eels to find their balance in the match, but the team coached by Eddie Marahare had an amazing opportunity when Troy Gunemba made a foul inside the penalty box. Tutizama Tanito took the ball to the penalty spot and found the low corner of Ronald Warisan to level the scoreline.
The 1-1 result was not the final score of the first half, as the youngster Raphael Lea’i scored the second for the Solomon Islanders. The 16-year-old forward was too fast for Lae City defense and finished a powerful shot to score his first goal in the competition. Interesting fact of the first game: Lea’i goal passed through a hole in the nets, forcing the referees and match assistants to repair the nets in the middle of the game.
The first half ended with the advantage for the Solomon Islanders and they might be disappointed they could not extend in the first minutes of the second half, as Lae City defense managed to clear two balls in the goal line to avoid the third goal of Eels.
If Eels did not score, Lae City did so. A handball inside area of Derrick Taebo forced the referee Norbert Hauata to award the second penalty of the clash, this time for Lae. The Papua New Guinean international Emmanuel Simon stepped up and made no mistake to put his side leveled in the score.
It did not take long for Lae to retake the advantage: after a good combination play, the experienced Nigel Dabinyaba was found free in the box just to finish to Desmond Tutu goal to score his first in the process and the third for his side in the game.
But the game was really destined to end in a draw: Norbert Hauta awarded another penalty for Henderson Eels as Eddie Managu made a clear foul inside the penalty box. Tutizama Tanito once again took the penalty and scored; his second so far in the league.
Both Lae and Eels had chances to score a winner: Raymond Gunemba hit the post in the 87th minute of play and in the following moments, Emmanuel Simon with a powerful shot was denied a hattrick with a good stop of Desmond Tutu. Eels had a free kick in the edge of the box at the 90th of play, but it was wasted by Joses Nawo.
Lae City and Henderson Eels collected one point each from this clash. The two sides will play again next 18th February at Soccer City Stadium – Lae will be playing against the Fijians of Lautoka while Henderson Eels will take on the locals of Malampa Revivors.