All eyes were on a thrilling match-up between the debuting home side Nalkutan from Tanna and Fiji’s Ba FC at Korman Stadium yesterday afternoon as the local team went 1-0 up to claim an historic victory for the club.
“I’m very happy, very happy as a coach,” Nalkutan’s coach Moise Poida said after the win over Ba.
“We expected a very good team across from us tonight, I’m happy with the many supporters, they came out tonight and cheered for my team and that really helped us get a victory today.”
After a nervous start, Nalkutan soon got into the swing of things on the regional stage, putting their experienced opponents under pressure with precision passing and a powerful attack.
Old hats at this game, the Solomon Islands trio of Nelson Sale, James Naka and Joses Nawo shone with their renowned style proving a handful for the Ba backline.
Rising star Azariah Soromon was a constant attacking threat with at least two very near misses denied only by the agility of Ba goalkeeper Josaia Ratu in the first half.
Ba threatened at times throughout the opening 60 minutes but weren’t quite able to threaten the Nalkutan goal as much as they would have liked.
Things fell into place for the home side in the 64th minute when a handball from Malakai Tiwa prevented a goal scoring opportunity in the Ba penalty area earning him his second caution, and Nalkutan a penalty.
James Naka stepped up to the spot to nail his 12th goal in the OFC Champions League and an historic one for Nalkutan.
A foolish decision from Nawo saw the playing field levelled as on off the ball incident led to his sending off, and despite being down to ten men each the intensity never dropped.
That made for a thrilling final 20 minutes with Saula Waqa coming close with an effort which came down off the inside of the crossbar before bouncing back out for Kaloran Firiam to snatch, and another just before the final whistle which was just off-target.
Ba coach Ronil Kumar said it was a hard loss to take and he believed his side could do better than what they did this evening.
“It was our first game and we needed to just adjust a little better, a little quicker. Unfortunately there was a penalty against us, there’s not much we can do about that. It was hard luck for us.”