New Zealand champions Waitakere United have beaten Tahiti's AS Tefana 3-1 in Group B to complete an intriguing opening round of 2011 O-League action.That outcome and Auckland City's 3-0 win over New Caledonian side AS Magenta went the way of pre-match expectations but the weekend's two Group A results will have caused surprise in many quarters.
Defending champions Hekari United were stunned 2-1 at home by O-League newcomers Amicale FC while Koloale FC were also favoured to beat Lautoka but went down by the same scoreline.
It looked like another upset could be on the cards at Fred Taylor Park in Auckland this afternoon when a spirited Tefana side took the lead in the 23rd minute. A misplaced pass from former All White Aaron Scott was pounced on by the Tahitians and the ball made its way to Rene Atrewe, who slipped a delightful reverse pass behind the Waitakere defence for Axel Williams to finish with aplomb.
It looked like the visitors would hold onto that lead until the half-time break but Waitakere's Fijian flyer Roy Krishna had other ideas, getting on the end of a Ryan De Vries ball to smash home a low shot in first-half stoppage time.
The second spell was an even affair as both sides tried to push for the win but the defining moment arrived with quarter of an hour to go, when a skirmish erupted between the players following a tackle by Waitakere substitute Mike Gwyther. Tefana's Tauraa Marmouyet and Waitakere's Martin Bullock were both cautioned for their roles in the incident but, unfortunately for Marmouyet, it was his second booking and he was made to reluctantly trudge from the field.
It was always going to be hard for 10-man Tefana to hold onto their point and they were unable to do so, Gwyther getting the final touch to a goal-line scramble in the 81ST minute before young substitute Sean Lovemore scored his first ever O-League goal two minutes later to put the result beyond doubt.
Waitakere player-coach Neil Emblen, who resisted the urge to take the field himself, was fully aware before the match that Tefana would be a tough nut to crack.
"I went out to the airport on Thursday to meet up with them and they looked like an organised outfit," he says. "They are obviously well coached and they made it very difficult for us today, we've had to grind out a win."
The former New Zealand Knights player and English professional was pleased with the three points but says his side are yet to hit their stride.
"We're not playing as well as we want to and we've got some big games coming up. Although a lot of the team have been retained from last year, we're still trying to find the right combinations. A lot of young lads got a game today, Ashton Pett made his debut and Sean Lovemore did as well coming on. The young players are getting a chance and hopefully they'll improve with every game."
Emblen was among those to raise an eyebrow when yesterday's results came through.
"There were a couple of surprises on the other side of the draw but we've got to make sure we win our group before we look at the other one," he says.
"I went to the game yesterday to look at the rivals in our group and Auckland deserved to win. I thought Magenta weren't as good as they looked last year but they did have a couple of players missing. It's going to be tough, Tefana have shown enough today and they have an artificial pitch over there which is going to make it tricky," he says.
The O-League returns for the next round on the weekend of November 13-14. Hekari host Koloale and Lautoka welcome Amicale in Group A while the Group B action features a pair of derbies, Magenta entertaining their Tahitian neighbours Tefana in Noumea before Waitakere enjoys home advantage over local rivals Auckland the next day