The National, Monday April 14th, 2014
By HENRY MORABANG
HEKARI United missed the semi-finals of the 2014 OFC Champions League after they drew with host Ba 1-1 at Govind Park yesterday.
With two draws and a loss, Hekari go back to the drawing board to prepare for next season provided they top the standings at the end of the National Soccer League.
After the completion of the group stages, Hekari finished last in Group C with Ba topping the group. AS Magenta finished second with Tafea third.
With two wins and a 1-1 draw against the MRDC-sponsored team, Ba eased through to semi-finals.
The Fiji champions were assured their spot even before the kick off against the Papua New Guinea champions, as AS Magenta found the form they’d been lacking previously to beat Tafea 3-1 and destroy any hopes of a challenge for the top spot from the Vanuatu side.
Knowing they had already safely qualified, Ba coach Yogendra Dutt sent a much-changed starting line-up out to face Hekari.
Hekari were hoping to snatch a redeeming victory to take home to fans after a disappointing campaign.
Ba’s target-man and former Hekari player Osea Vakatalesau looked dangerous from the word go as he looked to muscle his way on goal.
Applying pressure to keeper Godfrey Baniau, he came close to nicking one on a few occasions.
Hekari, for their part, were applying an equal amount of pressure at the other end, keeping the defenders on the back foot as they continued to make driving runs towards the box in search of an opener.
The Reds finally had that much sought after lead when Tutizamo Tanito smashed on a volley to open the scoring.
Ba came back strongly in the second spell and levelled scores via a Avinesh Swamy penalty after captain Osea Vakatalesau was brought down in the box by Tanito.
The hosts applied the pressure till the final whistle but could not score any more goals as Hekari goalie Godfrey Baniau displayed a man of the match performance and made save after save.
Hekari coach Jerry Allen was unhappy his side could not hold onto the lead to take three points home.
“I’m proud of the boys, they fought hard today,” Allen said.
“We tried to get a result but that’s football. You can’t have it all your way.”
“We scored early and settled down but they put some pressure on us and got the penalty.”