“I’m delighted. We knew it was going to be a big challenge to come over here, to acclimatise and lastly to face three good, good teams and I think it’s been evident all three games that the level and the intensity and quality of the Champions League is raising every year,” Team Wellington coach Jose Figuiera said after securing top of the group.
“I was really pleased with the way we topped the week off today.”
It was a highly charged, physical match from the two sides with the first caution coming in the first five minutes to Magenta’s Poameno Wilsen and the rough-housing continuing throughout the match.
Although they have a favourable record against AS Magenta, Team Wellington were given a fright early on in their encounter when Richard Sele smashed the ball into the back of the net
to open the scoring for the New Caledonian club in the 10th minute.
It took a further 20 minutes, and a lot of defending from Team Wellington, before they finally found themselves on level playing field when Ross Allen netted in the 37th minute.
The sides went into the break locked at one apiece but it was Team Wellington who seemed to come out of the sheds with the greater desire. They took the lead for the first time in the match not long after the restart through Eric Molloy.
The pressure went on Magenta to respond and despite making a couple of changes, the side struggled to contain a Wellington side growing in stature and in the 62nd minute conceded a penalty which Allen duly fired past Mickael Ulile to extend his side’s lead.
A second penalty was netted by Hamish Watson in the 76th minute before a strike from substitute Angus Kilkolly rounded out the 5-1 win and secured home advantage for Team Wellington in the quarter finals.
“We worked during the week knowing they’d come out with a high press, they did that really effectively against Marist,” Figuiera continued.
“You know there were times they got out of the blocks pretty fast and it took us a wee while to get into the game but huge personality from the players and the team to respond to what was a cracking goal from them.
“I think once we got midway through the first half we started to control things and create opportunities and the goal to be level at half-time obviously helped us with confidence and momentum going into the second half.”
A deflated Alain Moizan was left to ponder what could have been.
“Today we saw the difference between an amateur side and a side that is semi-professional,” he said.
“We were capable of holding on, resisting, and even score in the first half, but we didn’t have the ability to hold on in the second half and keep up with the rhythm.
“Wellington are able to do that fairly easily and that was the difference today. The score was a little more severe than we’d hoped but we just didn’t have the resources to keep it up in the second half.”
With Magenta suffering a heavy loss at the hands of Team Wellington, Marist needed only to beat Lupe Ole Soaga to secure their tickets to the quarter final.
However their opponents had no intention of giving them a free pass.
Marist set a quick-tempo from the outset, heaping the pressure on Lupe’s defences forcing some wonderful saves from goalkeeper Faalavelave Matagi.
However Lupe’s strong desire to go home with their heads held high made things mighty tough for the home side which resulted in lot of frustration. With time ticking down in the first half
Mathias Iani had the ball in the back of the net in the 43rd minute, only to have it ruled out for offside.
However three minutes later he made sure he did everything right, nailing the ball for his first OFC Champions League goal to give his side the lead going into the second half.
As the final 45 minutes got underway, Lupe upped the pressure and it paid off when they forced an error from Marist in their own area. A handball from captain Henry Fa’arodo as he tried to control the ball led to the referee pointing to the spot, where Lapalapa Toni smashed in the equaliser for his side.
Marist upped the tempo and made frequent attacks but they kept bring broken down as they tried to get the final shot off. However ten minutes after Toni’s equaliser and 22-year-old Iani had his brace. The third and final goal came from a stunning free kick struck by Atkin Kaua that just floated inside the far post.
Marist’s 3-1 win seeing them through to the OFC Champions League quarter finals for the first time in the club’s history as the Group D runners-up.
Marist coach Jerry Allen was pleased that his side was finally able to heed his demand for goals.
“We knew that this one would be tough, the easier the game you play, the harder it will be,” Allen said.
“We wanted to get the three points. The boys were looking forward to this game and we wanted to win, we wanted to go through.”
Allen said for Iani to finally find the back of the net in his third match was a good thing for the burgeoning young talent.
“I think when he came here today, he wants to score. I keep reminding him he needs to score for us, if he scores we win. And he stepped up today, he scored for us and we won.”
Three losses from three games was obviously not the course Paul Ualisi had hoped to take coming into the competition, but said he was proud of the fight they put up against Marist.
“First of all, congratulations to Marist for making the second level. It was a really good game.
“I was really proud of my boys today, especially the first half. The countered, they went 1v1, but we just weren’t able to get through.
“It’s really hard for the supporters in Samoa. It’s not really easy to come here and go back with nothing, so that’s why the boys stepped up.
“We’re not here to make up the numbers, we’re here to compete and next time we’ll come back and fight again.”
The final day of Group Stage action will be played at Trusts Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand today.