The second semifinal match of the 2023 edition of the OFC Champions League between Suva and AS Pirae proved to be an exhilarating and historic encounter. Suva, the Fijian champions, reached this stage for the first time ever, while their Tahitian counterparts, AS Pirae, were expected to reach the final, just as they did in 2006. The match showcased a thrilling display of skill, determination, and unexpected turns of events.
Suva started the match strongly, surprising everyone when defender Simione Nabenu ventured forward and received a pass from Alex Saniel. Nabenu skillfully evaded a defender and calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net, giving Suva an early lead. This early goal set the tone for the match and fueled Suva’s desire to secure their place in the final. Prior to this goal, Suva had already come close to scoring through Samuela Drudru, who missed an excellent opportunity at the 5th minute.
Suva managed to defend their lead effectively and went into halftime with a 1-0 advantage. The Fijian outfit displayed resilience and determination, thwarting AS Pirae’s attempts to equalize. However, the second half started with an exciting turn of events as Marlon Tahioa provided an exceptional assist to Vanuatu international Azariah Soromon, who coolly finished to double Suva’s lead.
Despite the two-goal deficit, AS Pirae did not give up and launched a spirited comeback. Tamatoa Tetauira, a Tahitian international who came on as a substitute, unleashed a powerful shot that beat Suva’s goalkeeper, Akuila Mateisuva, after outpacing defender Inoke Turagalailai. This goal reignited AS Pirae’s hopes and intensified the pressure on Suva.
The game took a dramatic turn when Suva’s Filipe Baravilala received his second yellow card at the 59th minute, reducing Suva to ten players. AS Pirae seized this opportunity and relentlessly attacked in search of an equalizer. Their efforts paid off when Ariiura Labaste found the back of the net in the dying minutes of the game, forcing the match into extra time.
In the added time of the first period of extra time, Suva displayed their resilience and determination once again. Replacement player Bruce Hughes provided an assist to Azariah Soromon, who confidently scored his second goal of the match. Soromon’s celebration, running into the crowd, epitomized the sheer joy and elation experienced by the Suva players and their fans.
Suva sealed the game in the second period of extra time when Fijian international Dave Radrigai orchestrated a fantastic play, assisting substitute Merril Nand, who calmly slotted the ball into the net. This goal extended Suva’s lead to 4-2, effectively securing their victory.
The match ended with a momentous win for Suva, propelling them to the grand final for the first time in their history. They will face the powerhouse Auckland City on Saturday, May 27th, in a highly anticipated clash. The winner of this final would earn the privilege of representing the Oceania region at the FIFA Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia later that year, marking the final seven-team event before the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 2025.
The thrilling match between Suva and AS Pirae will undoubtedly be remembered as a significant milestone in Suva’s journey, showcasing their resilience, teamwork, and determination. As they prepare to face Auckland City in the final, Suva’s players and fans are filled with anticipation and hope for a historic triumph that would etch their name in Oceania football history.