AS Central Sport have secured top spot in Group B ahead of runners-up Henderson Eels who finish second as both teams progresses to the quarter-finals of the 2019 OFC Champions League.
The Tahiti champions held Lautoka to a 2-2 draw on Saturday at Churchill Park to cement their grip of top seed in Group B.
With all to play for, both teams started the match with purpose going forward.
The hosts had some early chances to open the scoring but AS Central Sport made them pay with an early lead in the 12th minute.
A quick counter attack saw Sylvain Graglia teed up Cesar Castillo who slots past a helpless Lautoka custodian Beniamino Mateinaqara.
Lautoka piled constant pressure on the visitors after conceding and their goal come from an unlikely source in the 19th minute when AS Central Sport defender Peter BABKA turns the ball into his own net.
The Blues were down to 10 man in the 35th minute as Vanuatu international Bong Kalo received his marching orders for a red card.
Dave Radrigai received his second yellow card in the 37th minute after committing a penalty which Graglia missed.
Despite having two man down, Solomon Islands international Benjamin Totori was an unceasing treat throughout the game for AS Central Sport with his pace down the right left wing.
Totori rolls back the years with his 27 OFC Champions League career goal which help Lautoka to a 2-1 lead at the break.
The second half saw referee Nick Waldron handed out a number of yellow cards to 10 players from both teams and a red card to Lautoka’s Afraz Ali.
Both teams had equally opportunities to add to their scoreline but it was AS Central Sport with their numerical advantage who strike in the second half.
Manuarii Hauata scored on the hour mark to share the spoils and earned first place in Group B for AS Central Sport with seven points.
AS Central Sport coach Efrain Araneda said he was pleased to finish first in a tough group.
“Finished with first place which was hard to achieve. We had six points but we still wanted to win,” he said.
“But in spite of everything we’ve managed to get a draw, which for us is as much a win, and because we’ve come a long way to get this first place.
“It was incredibly difficult match. We beat Henderson, they’re a very good team, and we thought it might be an easy game but instead the match against Lautoka was the game to win in the pool.”
Lautoka coach Kamal Swamy said going down to 9 man in the first half makes it even tough for them to achieve their aim to get maximum points from the game.
“Of course it was a tough game, we knew we can win this game unfortunately we had that two red cards in the beginning,” he said.
“Then again we had another red card and playing with 8 men. I think with 9 men we still applying pressure, so if we would had 11 men we would have got this game.”
Swamy stressed that Henderson Eels’ big win in earlier doesn’t have any pressure on his players.
“It was not a problem because we just needed at least two goals and we could have qualified.
“The team was confident they can win by two goals but it was because of the two red cards.
“I think it was lazy red card the first one, so it just turn the game around.”
Henderson Eels secured a historic qualification into the last eight after their 7-0 win over winless FC Morobe Wawens.
The Wawens frustrated their Melanesian neighbors in the first half as both teams were scoreless heading back into the sheds.
Henderson Eels consistent pressure in the second half was rewarded on the hour mark when Tutizama Tanito breaks the deadlock with a close range finish.
Talisman Joses Nawo second a second seven minutes later before Obed Ofea added a third.
Midfielder Rodney scored a brace in the last 10 minutes of normal time. Jimmy Raramane and Tanito rounded up the big win for Henderson Eels in stoppage time.
Henderson Eels coach Eddie Marahare was not happy with his team’s performance in the first 45 minutes even with a strong display in the last 30 minutes of the second half.
“I think in the first half the boys were unsettled and I have change a couple of players,” he said.
“I am happy with the way my boys come back in the second half especially to score seven goals.
“I’m sure with this scoreline we have secured one of the two spots.
”Half of the team is new to international competition but the good thing is we always managed to come back later in the second half and it shows in all our three games it’s only in second half that we normally come back to score.”
FC Morobe Wawens coach Peter Purari said his boys stepped up in the first half but unfortunately lose control of the game in the later stages of the final half.
“Yes, I am really proud of them, I think we come back in our third game, unfortunately the same things within in the team happened, there is no discipline,” he said.
“Although we had a good build up, we can’t finish off well and the end result they capitalised on our mistakes, they scored, they were the better team of the day.
“I am very proud of my boys, we accept defeat with dignity and we’ll go back and work on our weaknesses.”
AS Central Sport and Henderson Eels will know their respective opponents in March 5 when the official quarterfinal draws will be carried out.
The quarterfinals of the 2019 OFC Champions League will be held during the weekend of April 6-7 where the winners of each group will play at home.