Blues storm into semis

A LATE header from Vanuatu import and Lautoka defender Brian Kaltack helped the blues defeat AS Dragons 2-1 last Sunday to become the first Fijian side to feature in the semi-finals of the OFC Champions League since 2015.

“I think we could have scored if we were on target, we rushed a lot as I think we created a lot of chances,” Lautoka coach Kamal Swamy said after the match held at Stade Pater in Tahiti.

“Nothing can be taken away from the Dragons, they are a great team and played very well. They knew what they were doing and had the game planned. For us now, we start to move forward. We’ll see what we can do in the semi-finals.”

AS Dragons won possession early and made the most of having veteran Marama Vahirua back in action following an injury. The former Ligue 1 midfielder controlled the game for his side with a lot of the action directed through him.

Lautoka was relying on the skill of the competition’s leading goal scorer Benji Totori as their point man up front and he didn’t disappoint with a number of excellent effort from distance.

And it was the veteran who set up 23-year-old Praneel Naidu to score a goal in the 27th minute.

The pace of the Fijians continued to cause problems for the AS Dragons but goalkeeper Gilbert Meriel was in great form with excellent saves to deny Totori and Fijian front man Osea Vakatalesau from scoring.

AS Dragons applied pressure and it paid off when they were awarded a free kick 30 metres from goal which was taken by Vahirua.

A perfectly weighted delivery was met by captain Tamatoa Tetauira who got his head to the ball to knock it out of Lautoka goalkeeper Beniamino Mateinaqara’s reach. It was almost a double in quick succession when the pair once again combined but Lautoka defended well to deny them and hold the score at 1-1 going into the break.

AS Dragons got the second half underway with an impressive 35m long range shot from Tetauira but it did little to challenge their opponents. Lautoka missed several great opportunities.

While the game looked like it was going to go to extra time, Kaltack sealed the game for Lautoka after heading the corner from Cory Chettleburgh in the 89th minute to secure victory for the visitors.

For AS Dragons, the journey may be over but after a promising campaign Timiona Asen is already looking to the future.

“We finish the Champions League tonight and now it’s time to start thinking about the league and next year’s regional competition.

“Lautoka is an opponent that can go far. For us the objective is to come back to this competition and if we do come back it will be totally different.”

The first leg of the OFC Champions League semi-finals will be held in Wellington, which will be between Team Wellington vs. Auckland City FC and the second semi-final will be held in Lautoka, which will be between Lautoka vs. Marist FC on the weekend of April 21-22. Kick off times have not been confirmed yet.

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