HEKARI United FC started nervously in their O-League campaign after coming from behind to force a 3-3 draw against the Vanuatu champions Tafea FC at Municipal Stadium in Port Vila, Vanuatu, on Saturday.
In the other Group B match, Fiji’s Lautoka FC celebrated their debut appearance with a 3-1 victory over Marist FC of Solomon Islands.
Leading 2-0 at halftime with goals from Kamal Hassan and Samuela Kautoga, the Fijians never looked back in the second half.
Despite former Hekari United midfielder and Marist FC captain Abraham Iniga getting Marist FC back in the game with a goal midway through the second half, Lautoka extended their lead with a late goal to Nahuel Arrarte in injury time for a 3-1 victory.
In the other match, the PNG champions, Hekari Utd FC trailed 2-0 midway through the opening half, after struggling to find the net despite having their fair share of scoring opportunities.
With patriotic home-crowd advantage, Tafea FC scored in the opening minute through scheming midfielder Silas Namatak to put them infront.
The game seesawed for the next 30 minutes before striker Robert Tom extended their lead to 2-0.
However, the visitors sensing the game was drifting away, regrouped to see striker Kema Jack scoring the first goal for PNG champion club in the 41st minute followed by another two minutes later. Fiji import Tuimaci Manuca leveled the score at 2-2.
Just before half time, Tafea flanker Francois Sakama scored the third goal for the shaky lead before the break.
After pep-talk from coach Jerry Allen, Hekari wasted no time shifting to high gear to see them level the scores for the second time 3-3.
just five minutes into the second half.
It was a classical goal when flanker and Solomon Islander Benjamin Mela headed in a good cross from a penalty for the equalizer.
Speaking from Port Vila, Vanuatu after the match, Hekari Utd FC franchise owner John Kapi Natto told The National that Hekari could have easily won if their strikers were on target.
According to statistics, Hekari Utd had 10 opportunities but only converted three into goals.
Kapi-Natto said he was very impressed with a club team playing against the team that comprised of Vanuatu representative players.
“I give full credit to the boys for putting up a good fight against the Vanuatu champions, Tafea,” he said.
Hekari Utd FC will be working on their mistakes to prepare for their next games against Lautoka of Fiji in Port Moresby on Nov 7.
After the match against Lautoka FC, Hekari Utd FC will host Marist FC in Port Moresby on Dec 7.