Auckland United draw 1-1 with Labasa in OFC Women’s Champions League debut

Fijian champions Labasa scored a penalty in the final ten minutes to earn a vital point against OFC Women’s Champions League debutants Auckland United on a rain-soaked pitch in the Solomon Islands.

The last of five teams to make their tournament debuts, one of the key talking points between captains at the pre-tournament press conference was how the New Zealanders would handle the Honiara heat and humidity.

Such fears seemed to ease early as the New Zealand national champions enjoyed the early running, settling into crisp passing and build-up play, but unable to find a final decisive touch, while Labasa were set up to catch them on the break.

Danielle Canham had the first real effort, with a long-range drive batted away by Selai Tikoisuva, who then came up trumps for the Fijians from the resultant corner, diving on the ball to deny a lurking Bree Johnson.

Auckland United had a great opportunity to take the lead just before the half-time break when they were awarded an indirect free-kick in the box after Tikoisuva picked up a back pass.

Labasa responded by assembling their entire team on the goal line, creating an impenetrable wall that their opponents couldn’t find a way past despite a number of efforts.

Labasa pack their goalline with all their players to successfully defend an Auckland United free kick. Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Labasa captain Sofi Diyalowai was a lynchpin at the heart of the Fijians’ defence, shielding her goalkeeper and keeping the Kiwis’ attacking forays at bay by marshalling a resolute offside trap.

Just past the hour mark, Auckland United took lead through a well-constructed team goal.

Penny Brill won possession and took off down the right wing, connecting with Alexis Cook who played in Rene Wasi close-in. The substitute played an inch-perfect low cross to the advancing Bree Johnson, who tapped into an unguarded net.

A few minutes later, it was almost two, as a low drive from Cook from just inside the penalty area evaded the Labasa defenders but continued across the face of the goal and out for a goal kick.

The Fijians came close to equalising, when a searching ball from Vanisha Kumar found Narieta Leba between the two Auckland United centre-backs, but the striker could only blast her shot over the crossbar, much to the disappointment of the home crowd.

Labasa continued to turn up the heat on the Kiwis, restoring parity after they won a 77th-minute penalty, when Auckland United goalkeeper Amberley Hollis brought substitute Anasimeci Volitkoro down when chasing a loose ball,

Hollis had no chance of stopping Vanisha Kumar’s shot as it flew into the top corner. There was a slight delay as officials clarified whether there had been any encroachment in the area but the goal stood and parity was reached.

With the scores level again, the temperature continued to rise, and tackles continued to fly.

Auckland United thought they had snuck a winner at the end, but Labasa’s robust defence was able to desperately scramble the ball clear when it seemed certain the ball would find the net.

Player of the Match was Auckland United’s Alexis Cook.

Watch post-match interview with Alexis Cook

Main photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Goal celebrations for the defending champions. Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Champions take lead in group with 4-1 win

Meanwhile, in the other Group B game, three goals in eight minutes secured reigning champions AS Academy Féminine a 4-1 victory in their opening match against Veitongo at Lawson Tama Stadium.

Playing in torrential conditions, debutants Veitongo struck first, pouncing on a defensive miscommunication after AS Academy failed to deal with a long ball. A determined Leeann Taufa’ao chased the loose ball, before playing in Ana Polovili, who coolly slotted home the opening goal in the 20th minute.

The reigning champs fired back 10 minutes later through captain Alice Wenessia, who, with a deft touch and turn, lost her defenders before firing a rocket past Taufa from outside the penalty area.

The holders upped the urgency in the second half as they searched for a winner, with first Wenessia firing wide after a mazy run, followed by Neporo and half time substitute Ronaldine Hnaune combining, but the 17-year-old fired it directly into the hands Taufa.

Sensing the opportunity to frustrate their opponents, Veitongo were content to sit deep and absorb the pressure from their New Caledonia opponents. It was a strategy that paid off, as they restricted the captain Wenessia to shots from outside the box that harmlessly flew wide.

The holders enjoyed majority of possession, and were camped out around the penalty area for much of the second-half but despite moving their way into attacking positions with ease they just couldn’t find the final decisive finish.

Unbreakable for more than half-an-hour in the second-half, the Tongan defence finally succumbed.

AS Academy left it late but finally found the winner thanks to three of their teenagers, who combined brilliantly to give Joceline Kourevi her first goal of the tournament in the 86th minute.

Captain Wenessia then put the match to bed, producing another unstoppable shot from just inside the penalty area in the 90th minute. Making sure of the result, Neporo confidently tucked away an inch-perfect Hnaune cutback to confirm a dramatic victory.

AS Academy Féminine’s Alice Wenessia was awarded the Player of the Match.

READ MORE: Football overcomes weather challenges at OFC Women’s Champions League >>>>


We acknowledge the assistance of OFC Media in providing our reports from the Solomon Islands.


Games played on Tuesday March 12, 2024

Group B

Labasa 1 (Vanisha Kumar 82′ pen)
Auckland United 1 (Bree Johnson 63′)

Veitongo 1 (Ana Polovili 20’)
AS Academy Féminine 4 (Alice Wenessia 30′, 90′, Joceline Kourevi 86′, Jennifer Neporo 90+4′)

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