Molea’s winning strike earns win for Warriors and a place in the quarterfinals
BY ROMULUS HUTA
A spirited last gasp effort by Solomon Warriors in their final Group B match saw them leaped into the last eight of the Oceania Champions League.
This follows a narrow 2-1 win over the Tahitian champions AS Dragon at the Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti yesterday.
A strike from veteran playmaker Judd Molea separated the two sides within seven minutes remaining on regulation time and guaranteed Warriors one of the eight spots in the quarterfinal.
Infact the three points earned from the win lifted Warriors above Erakor Golden Star who were held to a 2-2 draw by AS Lossi in the opening match, but the Honiara outfit couldn’t find an additional goal to leapfrog Dragon at the top of the table and claim home advantage when the quarterfinal draw is made.
Instead, Dragon claim that honour by merit of an additional goal scored throughout the group stage after finishing level on points and goal difference with the Solomon Islands champions.
Warriors had a slow start in their group phase campaign having succumbed to a 2-0 loss to Erakor of Vanuatu in their opening fixture earlier last week.
Warriors bounced from the loss to record a massive 6-1 drubbing of AS Lossi and set back on track in the race for the two qualification spots in Group B.
Meanwhile, in yesterday’s match Molea was brilliant throughout the contest against AS Dragon from the start.
Apart from his winning strike from the spot, he also played assist in their opener which was scored eight minutes from the first half hour mark in the first 45 minutes.
After winning a foul on the edge of the area, Molea stepped up to send in a curling free kick which met Kensi Tangi’s head with a perfect precision and enabled glancing header that lobbed over the Dragons defense and goalkeeper Gilbert Meriel to find the back of the net.
Warriors dominated and chances came begging, however, Meriel stood out well to prevent further damage.
Warriors held onto the 1-0 lead until halftime.
The second half resumed and the hosts managed to find equaliser in the 77th minute through Rainui Tze-Yu but Molea restored the lead from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute as Hennel Tehaamoana earned his marching orders for a second caution leaving his side a man short for the final stages.
Salomon Tevapauhu also joined him back in the dressing room after he too earned a red card for a second bookable offence in time added on.
Warriors coach Moses Toata was delighted with the result.
“We came into this game, we wanted to win because we needed to qualify,” said Toata.
“The boys played hard, they did what they needed to and got the win. They fought for every ball.”
AS Dragon coach Timiona Asen had mixed feelings with the result but was satisfied after learning about his club’s progression to the playoff stages as group winners.
“I’m a bit disappointed with this result because our first objective was to win tonight and to play right until the end,” Asen said.
“I think our players were a little bit thrown by the Solomons’ game. I’m happy to have qualified, and we’ve had confirmation that we will host the quarterfinal and I’ll try and rebuild the team for the next stage.”
The OFC Champions League now takes a week-long breather before resuming with Group D action from Honiara’s Lawson Tama Stadium on February 24 followed by Group C from Trusts Stadium in Auckland a day later.