The three teams in contention for two OFC Champions League quarterfinals spots from Group B are working through the possible permutations as they prepare for their final playoff push on Saturday (local time) in Papeete, Tahiti.
In what shapes as a fascinating final day at Stade Pater, hosts AS Dragon (6 points and a goal difference of +5), Solomon Warriors (3 points, +3) and Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star (3 points, +1) could each top the group, qualify as runners-up or miss the playoffs altogether by finishing third.
In the most complex scenario, wins to Erakor and Solomon Warriors would leave all three teams level on six points with the final positions decided on goal difference, goals scored then a countback on head-to-head results if required.
After two wins from their opening matches, including Wednesday night’s dramatic last-gasp 4-3 victory over Erakor Golden Star, host club AS Dragon are in pole position and are the team with their destiny most in their own hands at Stade Pater.
A draw from their final fixture against Solomon Warriors would confirm the Papeete club as group winners and earn them home advantage for a one-off quarterfinal against the runners-up of another group.
However, a loss to Warriors by two goals or more would see them leapfrogged by the Honiara side and would open the door for Erakor to overtake them as well, leaving Dragon out of the playoff picture for the third time in as many OFC Champions League campaigns.
Coach Timiona Asen is keeping things simple for his side, with victory the only target.
“It would be a huge source of pride for the club and myself to reach the knockout stage of the OFC Champions League,” said Asen.
“I’ve asked my players to win the final match against Solomon Warriors, I’m not thinking about any calculation and just playing the draw, I want my team to win.”
Solomon Warriors, currently second in the group, need to beat Dragon by two goals to book a playoff place or, failing that, to at least match what Erakor Golden Star does against AS Lossi in the day’s opening fixture.
Warriors coach Moses Toata is already planning for an Erakor victor that would put the pressure on his side to win but with top spot still up for grabs there’s as much carrot as stick in his preparation.
“It’s like a final to us. We need three points. If we draw, we go out of the competition so for us it’s a must win,” Toata said.
“Also we have to win by a margin of two or three – we’re targeting top spot and a home quarterfinal.
“I’m not sure what Dragon’s approach will be but I am taking a very aggressive approach. We have to win and I will do everything I can.”
AS Lossi and Erakor Golden Star kick off proceedings at Stade Pater at 3pm local time on Saturday with Solomon Warriors and AS Dragon completing Group B action at 6pm.
Note: Games are on Sunday in New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Solomon Warriors [SOL] vs. AS Dragon [TAH]
Saturday 17 February
Kick-off: 18h00 (local)
(15h00 NCL/SOL/VAN Sunday 18 Feb)
Referee: Campbell-Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Mark RULE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Sione LELENGA (TGA)
Vital Statistics: Warriors will qualify for the knockout stages of the OFC Champions League for the first time if they match or better Erakor’s result against AS Lossi or if they beat AS Dragon by a two goal margin.
The Players: The addition of Judd Molea alongside John Alick and Jerry Donga in midfield allowed Solomon Warriors to dominate possession and create overloads in key areas of the pitch in the big win over AS Lossi.
Coach Quote: “The three points we got on Wednesday put us in a good position to contend for a quarterfinal spot. We’re looking forward to Saturday’s game but it’s going to be a hard one.”
Team List: 1. Joseph KOMU (GK), 2. Haddis AENGARI, 3. Allen PETER, 4. Jason THOMAS, 5. Fred FAKARI, 6. Molea TIGI, 8. John ALICK, 9. Jerry DONGA, 10. Judd MOLEA, 11. Ian PAIA, 12. Albert WITNEY, 14. Augustine SAMANI, 16. Emmanuel POILA, 17. Gibson DAUDAU, 22. Bata FURAI, 23. Gagame FENI, 24. Kensi TANGIS, 28. Abraham BIRD (GK)
Coach: Moses TOATA (SOL)
Vital Statistics: A win or draw would confirm AS Dragon as Group B winners and earn a home quarterfinal. The Tahitian champions could even qualify if they lost depending on the scale of defeat and the result of the group’s other match.
The Players: Tamatoa Tetauira was the hero for the host club once again. After scoring twice in their opening win over Lossi, the captain netted twice in injury time to seal a remarkable 4-3 win over Erakor Golden Star that puts Dragon on the brink of of qualification for the quarterfinals.
Coach Quote: “I think my players can handle the pressure, we’re playing at home so we want to win every game. At the moment, we’re just focusing on recovering well.”
Team List: 1. Gilbert MERIEL (GK), 2. Victor SNOW, 3. Teata HAUATA, 5. Gabriel VAKOUME, 6. Hennel TEHAAMOANA, 7. Salomon TEVEPAUHU, 9. Samuel HNANYINE, 10. Marama VAHIRUA, 11. Rainui TZE-YU, 12. Logan LEDUC, 15. Sullivan DUEE, 16. Tamatoa TETAUIRA (c), 18. Louis PETITGAS, 21. Christophe GENDRON, 22. Clyde TINIAU, 23. Reynald LEMAITRE, 24. Teinaore SEINO, 30. Benjamin TARDIVEL (GK)
Coach: Timiona ASEN (TAH)