The chances of Waitakere United making the 2012 O-League final remain up in the air with just one match of pool play still to take place.
Three of the four final round matches were staged today and brought some interesting results, the most notable of which was Waitakere's 4-0 win over New Caledonian visitors Mont-Dore.
The victory keeps Waitakere in the running for a final meeting with crosstown rivals Auckland City, who secured their spot in the two-legged final in the previous round but fell to their first loss of the campaign this afternoon at the hands of Amicale.
The Vanuatu side triumphed 1-0 in Port Vila to finally earn revenge for last season's defeat in the final to City while Papua New Guinea side Hekari United also finished on a high, edging out Koloale 2-1 in the Solomon Islands.
Attention now turns to tomorrow's vital clash between Ba and Tefana, a match originally scheduled to take place today but postponed due to the effects of a severe storm in Fiji. Waitakere's win has all but ended Ba's final dreams - it would take a massive victory to overhaul the Kiwis' goal difference - but three points to Tefana would see the Tahitians progress.
Waitakere coach Neil Emblen was pleased his side took care of their part of the equation and is hoping for a strong showing from Ba tomorrow.
"If Ba get their noses in front I'd hope that they'll be tough to play against," he said. "It's difficult to say what will happen because Ba can't really catch us now and have nothing to play for. That can change what sort of tackles you go in for and what intensity you play with."
After a strangely subdued first-half showing from Waitakere, Ross McKenzie opened the scoring in spectacular fashion by curling a free kick into the top corner from the edge of the box in the 68th minute and further goals to Ross Haviland, Allan Pearce and Sean Lovemore settled Emblen's nerves.
"We were very lacklustre in the first half and were not at the races at all," he said. "Thankfully a little rark up at half-time did get a bit of a reaction. But I just felt we could have made the game so much more comfortable if we'd have pressed on and played a bit better in the first half."
Auckland's trip to Vanuatu had nowhere near as much riding on it and coach Ramon Tribulietx will be thankful of that after seeing his side finally surrender their unbeaten record. A 60th-minute strike from Kensi Tangis, who starred for Vanuatu at the OFC Men's Olympic Qualifier in Taupo earlier this month, proved the difference between the teams and gave Amicale's fans, who have turned out in their thousands at PVL Stadium throughout the season, a fond finale to the 2012 campaign.
"It didn't matter that we were already in the final, the story was just the same as it always is for us - we were still coming here to try to win," Tribulietx said. "We wanted to play exactly the same way we usually do but the result didn't go our way this time. We had some good chances that we could have scored from and then didn't defend a shot from outside the box well in the second half. That's what cost us the game."
Hekari joined Amicale in signing off in style with their come-from-behind success in the Solomons, secured thanks to a Maciu Dunadamu header on the stroke of half-time and a 75th-minute winner from Kema Jack. Koloale captain Benjamin Totori had earlier given the home side the lead from the penalty spot in the 16th minute after Mostyn Beui was fouled by Taniela Waqa.
"Today was a test for our young players and I am happy with how they performed against a strong team," Hekari coach Jerry Allen said. "I think this is an important result because it is the first time we have beaten Koloale at home. We worked intensively on our finishing in training to get players comfortable in front of goal and it worked for us."
The loss means Koloale have only one win to show for their efforts this season and coach Henry Koto, who assumed the reins from Jeffrey Allen for this match, says his men must now make sure they get the chance to do better by booking a return to Oceania's premier club competition.
"We started off well today but then lost our rhythm repeatedly," he said. "We played well in defence but didn't have good coordination up front and didn't utilise our opportunities. We now have to work hard in the S-League to qualify again and must focus all our resources on this."
- Herald Online