Auckland United into Champions League final after snatching extra time winner

Auckland United will meet Hekari United in the final of the OFC Women’s Champions League after needing extra-time to beat Vanuatu’s Tafea FC in semi-final high on drama and tension at the National Stadium in Honiara.

Tied 1-1 at full time, the sides went into extra time, with Danielle Canham scoring the winner for the New Zealand champions.

Main photo: Opening goalscorer Talisha Green shares her joy with teammates. Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Auckland United were rocked by an injury to forward Bree Johnson during the warm-up, with Pia Vlok coming in to fill the gap at short notice.

Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Auckland’s defence was largely disciplined and organised, keeping Tafea’s stars quiet as both sides worked their way into the match.

Just ten minutes were on the clock when the New Zealanders went ahead, captain Talisha Green bravely heading home a bullet header following an excellent corner delivery from Canham.

The closest Tafea came to securing an equaliser in the first half was via tournament top goalscorer Jane Alatoa, whose majestic run through Auckland’s midfield and defence deserved a goal.

United’s goalkeeper, Amberley Hollis, was on hand, reacting quickly to push the Vanuatu international’s shot wide, in an otherwise relatively quiet half for the stopper.

Shortly before the cooling break, Wasi nearly added a second, latching on to a perfectly-weighted through-ball from Penny Brill, but her shot rippled the wrong side of the net.

Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

While Auckland United went searching for a second goal, Tafea goalkeeper Netty Kalsau was a considerable factor in keeping her side in the contest, making a good save on the stretch to deny Wasi from a header.

As the half wore on, Tafea seemed most likely to find an equaliser from a moment of magic from Alatoa or Sine, though the pair became increasingly isolated up top as Auckland United cut off the Vanuatuan side’s supply lines from midfield.

When the leveller did come, it was via a substitute, Just arrived on the field, Liyao Eramol acrobatically connected with a scissor kick, burying the ball past Hollis in the Auckland United goal and sparking huge celebrations from teammates and fans alike.

Tafea’s tails were up, and Alatoa had the chance to snatch the win after escaping the attentions of Greer MacIntosh, only for Hollis to push the ball away for a corner.

With penalties on the horizon, the opportunity to win the match fell to Canham, timing her run perfectly and having the simple task of side-footing into an unguarded net after teammate Piper O’Neill’s low cross from the by-line.

Hekari United … semi-final winners against Labasa. Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Hekari United need extra time to see off Labasa

In the other semi-final, Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United were made to work hard by Fiji’s Labasa before extra time goals gave them a 2-0 victory.

Hekari United captain Marie Kaipu led from the front for her side. With a chance inside the first minute, she found herself clear of Labasa’s defence but dragged her shot wide.

Both sides had established attacking strategies — for the Fijians, via Anasimeci Volitikoro on the left wing; for Hekari United, the direct combination play of Michaelyne Butubu and Marie Kaipu

Labasa had a golden opportunity to take the lead through Narieta Leba in the 23rd minute, as Leba shrugged off her defender, only to miscue her shot, much to the relief of the small but passionate Hekari United fan contingent inside the National Stadium.

The Fijians came close again in the 29th minute, Leba turning provider this time, slipping in Stella Naivaluvelu with a well-weighted through ball, though Fidelma Watpore was quick off her line to smother the danger.

A high press nullified both sides in the first half, with goalkeepers regularly the only players in their half. Despite only scoring three goals in the group stages, Labasa ended the first period looking the more likely to score, creating more clear-cut chances through Volitikoro and Leba.

Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Neither side were able to break the deadlock in regular time and, inevitably, extra-time loomed large.

Despite being the group stage’s highest goal scorers, Hekari United created fewer clear-cut chances than Labasa, heavily leaning on Kaipu’s ability to pull something out of nothing when surrounded by defenders, or through her creating space for Butubu by occupying the defenders’ attentions.

The Papua New Guinea side were the dominant force for much of the additional 30 minutes and eventually found the crucial breakthrough on the 100th minute mark.

A loose ball bouncing in the Labasa area wasn’t sufficiently cleared and Nenny Elipas took advantage of the Fijian side’s inability to deal with the danger, lashing the ball home to give Hekari a vital lead.

Kaipu narrowly missed adding a second, driving into the penalty area and striking well, only to see her effort tipped around the post. Hekari came close to breaching the net off the resultant corner, but Labasa held on.

It felt a second Hekari goal was always likely and it duly came with a little over five minutes remaining.

The influential Kaipu drove into the Labasa area and, having drawn in the defender, squared for the unmarked Christie Maneu to lash in from a few yards out, confirming the result and her side’s place in the final.


We acknowledge the assistance of OFC Media in providing these match reports.


Games played on Wednesday March 20, 2024


Labasa (Fiji) 0
Hekari United (PNG) 2 (Nenny Elipas 100′, Christie Maneu 114′)

Auckland United (NZ) 2 (Talisha Green 10′, Danielle Canham 104′)
Tafea (Vanuatu) 1 (Liyo Eramol 82′)


Game to be played on Saturday March 23, 2024


Hekari United v Auckland United
National Stadium, Honiara, 5pm (NZT)

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