Lupe o le Soaga brave in 2-0 loss to giants Auckland City
Lupe o le Soaga's historic Oceania Champions League campaign may be over, but they ended with another strong perfomance in a 2-0 loss to New Zealand club Auckland City.
Having won more Champions League titles than any other club, Auckland were massive favourites against the Samoans, but head coach Fa'aeanu'u Paul Ualesi's men dug in deep to keep them largely at bay during the Group D match at Stade Mahina in Tahiti on Sunday evening Samoan time.
Auckland City forced the first save of the match in the 10th minute, when a lovely ball in behind found Logan Rogerson.
He couldn’t finish past Lupe keeper Zane Green, though the likes of Rogerson and Dylan Manickum were a constant threat to get behind the defensive line.
And it was the favourites that had the first big chance of the game in the 18th minute – the ball was flashed across the face of goal by Brian Kaltack and Adam Mitchell really should have got something on it to score.
There was a similar chance for Logan Rogerson in the 27th minute as well, though Lupe were defending well for the most part against one of the best teams in the continent.
The Navy Blues did eventually open the scoring when a cross from captain Cameron Howieson found Brian Kaltack at the far post for a point-blank header with half an hour played.
Winger Jarvis Filimalae got the first decent shot away for Lupe when he fired into the side netting from long-range in the 37th minute.
There were minor chances both ways over the rest of the half, and Lupe did well to stay within a goal heading into the break.
They probably had the better start to the second half as well, but proved unable to fashion a killer ball to unlock the Auckland defence.
Cameron Howieson was found in behind but shot straight at Zane Green as the regional giants began to turn up the pressure.
They got the ball past Green in the 61st minute, but defender Ritchievoy Ueligitone sacrificed himself, colliding with the post to clear off the line and keep it 1-0.
And Lupe had their best chance of the game at the other end, some lovely passing finding Tomas Mosquera in the box where his shot was blocked.
But a couple of minutes later Auckland had their crucial second goal.
Zane Green probably should have done better in coming out to challenge a ball over the top for Cameron Howieson near the edge of his box
His parry fell to Dylan Manickum, who set himself and lobbed tidily into the top-left corner over the covering Lupe defenders to make it 2-0 in the 68th minute.
Auckland were able to monopolise possession over the final 20 minutes and change as Lupe tired, although the Samoans did well to keep them from scoring again.
In fact it was Lupe who came closest to scoring with Tomas Mosquera wriggling free in the box and getting his shot off, forcing a good save from Auckland keeper Cameron Brown low at the near post in the 89th minute.
Even though his team were beaten, head coach Fa'aeanu'u Paul Ualesi was immensely proud of their performance.
“The boys were doing really well," he said, lamenting the fact the couldn't finish one or two of those chances in the second half.
“Auckland City, that’s a huge giant in Oceania."
Fa'aeanu'u said commitment to and consistency of training is key to producing more of the same performances in future.
“As you can see now we are moving forward. The development inside our Football Federation Samoa, it’s added potential to the boys," he said.
Opposing coach Jose Manuel Figueira led Team Wellington to a Champions League title in 2018, and he was impressed by what Lupe o le Soaga had to offer in the win.
"They’re a team that are improving every year, and I think it’s good for the competition," he said.
“We certainly told the players that it’s going to be a difficult game, that things wouldn’t just happen easy, and they showed today again that they’re more organized, better conditioning, better technical [players]."
Although they didn't qualify for the knockout rounds, Lupe's 2020 Oceania Champions League campaign will go down in history thanks to their earlier 4-3 win over Ba FC; the first ever victory by a Samoan club in the competition.