Football

Erakor meet joint Group B leaders AS Dragon on MD2. Credit OFC via Massimo Colombini)

A clash between match day one victors AS Dragon and Erakor Golden Star headlines the second day of Group B action in Papeete, Tahiti on today (local time) with each side determined to edge closer to the OFC Champions League quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon kick-off at Stade Pater it’s do-or-die for Solomon Warriors and New Caledonia’s AS Lossi who each need points to keep alive their hopes of claiming one of the two playoff places on offer.

Buoyed by their 2-0 win over Solomon Warriors on Sunday, Erakor Golden Star’s coach Obed Jimmy said the Vanuatu club were riding a wave of confidence as they look to back up against the Tahitian champions.

“I told our players before the first game that the first match would push us to a new level,” Jimmy said.

“Our aim is to get to the quarterfinals and I know I can count on my players including those who were on the bench if I decide to use them. I don’t see that there’s anything to stop us reaching our target.”

Despite Dragon boasting players boasting a number of players with experience in the French professional system, including Ligue 1 veterans Marama Vahirua and Reynald Lemaitre, Jimmy said his players were far from daunted by the challenge.

“All the players they feel hungry to play against these players and to test them. With the level of Dragon’s play we don’t see anything to fear when we play them.”

Host club AS Dragon were the big winners on day one, posting a 4-0 win in a Francophone derby but struggled to break down 10-man Lossi side in the first half and almost trailed at the break.

Coach Timiona Asen put the slow start down to a case of stage fright.

“You have to take into consideration the fact that for most of the players on the pitch it was their very first match in the OFC Champions League, And this added to the fact they were playing in front of a big crowd made them feel a bit lost.

“At half time I readjusted the tactics because I noticed that Lossi were always attacking even though they were playing at 10. So I played with just one defensive midfield and the other midfielders supporting him when needed.”

Dragon staff were monitoring an injury to Marama Vahirua, who limped off just before halftime on Sunday, but Asen said if they have to replace the veteran striker the loss would be lessened by the strengths of a younger player in a tweaked system.

“Everybody’s focusing on Marama because he’s a great player, that’s normal. But you have to keep in mind that he’s not twenty anymore.

“But that’s ok because I have young players who are ready to come in but of course Marama’s role is very important in the team and in the way it plays. If he’s not fit to play I will change the system and put a player who will press the opponents constantly.”

For Solomon Warriors and AS Lossi, recovery from Sunday takes on even more importance having played some their respective matches on a rain-soaked Stade Pater pitch with just ten men. But with their quarterfinal hopes in the balance there is still much work to be done on the pitch before the do-or-die clash.

Moses Toata says it wasn’t difficult the main work-on after missing multiple chances to take the lead against Erakor.

“Our first thoughts on how quickly we can recover. Hopefully we have time to work on our finishing which was clearly lacking from the first match,” Toata said.

“We did well in the match I thought. We actually created a lot of chances. I don’t know what happened to the boys but you can’t afford to miss those in this competition. Football is about scoring goals. If you can’t score then it’s something else. If we can put away our chances, we’ll be okay.”

And with just two games left to secure enough points, Toata echoed the same confidence as his counterparts in the group that his team would get the job done.

“I’m definitely sure we’re going to go through. We’re preparing for Wednesday’s game and Saturday’s game but focussing mostly on Lossi of course.”

Lossi claimed an unwanted moral victory in their first match sticking with an commitment to attack even when a player short and despite the 4-0 reverse, coach Victor Wejieme said picking his players back up, at least mentally, will not be an issue.

“Wednesday will be a different game, I have confidence in my players and, from what I could feel when we had dinner all together after the match, they have regained confidence too. They’re now focusing on recovering: resting well, eating well and getting the treatments they need.”

“So far, Dragon and Erakor both have one victory, but all is not lost for us, we can still qualify for the quarters,” Wejieme said.

“We’ll take the two matches one at the time and we’ll do our best to ensure the team is ready for each one of them and we’ll count the points at the end.

“I don’t know yet if we’ll change our game system or not but I have confidence in my players. There’s just some fatigue due to the fact that we were reduced to 10 men during most of the match yesterday. If we had played the whole match 11 vs 11, I think the situation will be different than what it is today.”

Solomon Warriors and AS Lossi get match day two day underway at 3pm local time (12pm Thursday NCL/SOL/VAN) with Erakor Golden Star and AS Dragon kicking off three hours later at 6pm local time.

Raymond Nasse

Sports Editor

raymond@dailypost.vu

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