Twenty thousand fans packed into Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara today to see Solomon Islands champions Kossa FC upset Waitakere United in the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) O-League First Leg Final.Joe Luwi and James Naka were the heroes for the home side as their goals propelled Kossa to a 3-1 win and put a trip to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup in December firmly in their sights.
Centre back Jonathon Perry scored the only goal for the visitors in very hot and humid conditions and will provide some comfort for the Waitakere party, knowing now that a 2-0 win in the return leg in Auckland on May 11th will see them regain their crown as OFC O-League champions.
Kossa drew energy from the loud vivacious Honiara support and took the game to Waitakere with Reginald Davani and Naka causing problems early on. Waitakere looked like they were struggling with the heat and were made to pay in the 21st minute when Naka found some space outside the Waitakere box and fired a 30 yard missile into the underside of the crossbar. Luwi was the quickest player to react and swiftly tucked the rebound home to give the hosts the perfects start.
The visitors struggled to get out of first gear for much of the half and but for a few dazzling runs by Solomon Island star Benjamin Totori, failed to trouble the Kossa defense. It was Luwi who struck again for Kossa in the 42nd minute and again it was his predatory instincts that made the goal. Davani's left footed shot was spilled by Richard Gillespie and Luwi was there to tuck it home in clinical fashion.
Waitakere obviously benefitted from a much needed water break at halftime and came out the more invigorated side in the second half. Jonathan Perry rose highest from a Neil Sykes corner in the 48th minute to pull one back for Waitakere and it looked like the halftime water had woken them from their daze.
But the relentless attack we have come to expect from Waitakere never came and Kossa slowly started to gain the edge back. As the heat began to take its toll the speed of the game slowed and it looked like Waitakere's best chances would come from set plays. Neil Emblen went close when he arrived unannounced at the far post from a free kick only to square his header across the six yard box to a spot where a striker should have been.
Kossa gained in confidence as the half wore on and Naka was instrumental in all their attacking play. He let fly with a series of long range efforts which whistled just wide of the Waitakere post. Kossa grabbed a crucial third goal in the 89th minute when Naka jinxed his way through the Waitakere box before deftly clipping the ball over the on rushing Gillespie to produce screams of joy from the local faithful.
After the final whistle Waitakere Coach Chris Milicich acknowledged that heat had played a major factor in the match and was confident his side could turn the final around in the second leg. "We'll go back home and win 2-0, end of story. Kossa played well today and managed the heat well but now they have to come down to our place and play and it will be a completely different proposition down there. "I thought it was our flattest performance in 28 games this year, we've never conceded 3 goals all year and it was just very sloppy. No one stood out for us everyone was poor."
Kossa playmaker Naka was filled with emotion after the game and was enjoying the moment. "I am very excited at this moment. We all knew that Waitakere are very experienced and it is a great result for us. When we went 2-0 up I was so happy and the thought went through my mind for the first time that we could be representing Oceania."
Davani was also excited by the result but very wary that the side still has a long way to go before they are crowned champions. "It's not over, its only one game. We're just halfway there. They are a very good side, they are going to be playing at home and it will be a lot harder. But I am still very happy."