Tupapa grab vital draw against Veitongo

Tupapa Maraerenga FC have twice come from a goal down to secure a 2-2 draw with Veitongo FC to ensure they have qualified for the group stages of the OFC Champions League 2020.

Cook Islands club Tupapa only needed a draw from the Qualifying Stage contest in Auckland after they also drew with Lupe Ole Soaga SC earlier in the week.

Coming into the match, the pressure was on Veitongo who went down 2-0 to Lupe last Saturday; that defeat meant only a win would push Veitongo through to the group stages of this year’s Champions League.

The Tongan club came out firing and went ahead in the second minute through skipper Hemaloto Polovili who powered a strong shot home.

That lead didn’t last long though as import striker Andre Estay drew Tupapa level as he finished from close range.

From there, the stage was set for the best goal of the Qualifying Stage as Polovili delivered a picture-perfect free kick into the top corner in the 33rd minute.

Veitongo took their 2-1 advantage to the break and despite having to play into the wind in the second spell, Tupapa found their desired equaliser shortly after halftime through Harlem Simiona.

After that they managed to hang on to secure the draw and finish second in the Qualifying Stage, which will put them in Group C for the Champions League. Lupe will join Group D, while Veitongo failed to advance.

“I’m happy with the boys, and firstly, I want to say thank you to Veitongo for the game, and to my boys as well,” Tupapa player-coach Anthony Samuela said.

Samuela also selected himself for the match after sitting out Tuesday’s draw with Lupe and he slotted into the midfield and put in a sound performance.

He said his side would need to improve their fitness ahead of the Champions League, which gets underway in the middle of February. They also expect to have imports such as Estay, Paul Day and Jake Stuart available.

For Veitongo, they were left to lament what might have been, but coach Mark Uhatahi took plenty of positives from their much-improved effort compared to last Saturday’s loss to Lupe.

“We changed a lot of things in terms of the tactics and the game plan from last week and there’s a whole lot of things that we switched just for this game,” he said.

“I believe there’s a whole lot of improvement. In terms of the players, I’ve picked a lot of young players because looking at the long term, I want to invest in their gifts and talents for the long run of the club.”