This story by RNZ.co.nz is republished with permission
Tongan football champions Veitongo FC are talking up their chances of making history in today’s do-or-die OFC Champions League qualifying match against Tupapa Maraerenga.
The Tonga Major League winners were beaten 2-0 by Lupe o le Soaga in the opening match of the qualifying stage last weekend and need to beat Cook Islands title holders Tupapa Maraerenga if they’re to reach the group stage for the first time.
Head coach Mark Uhatahi said they have learned from their opening defeat and felt well prepared for this afternoon’s crunch encounter.
“The two goals that happened was just a simple mistake from our defenders and we believe the team is prepared physically and technically,” he said.
“But what we prepared [and] learnt from last week is just the preparation because we have new boys and we are preparing them mentally for the coming up game.”
Tupapa Maraerenga topped the Champions League qualifying stage in 2018 and 2019 and only need a draw to advance to the main draw for the third straight year.
After being held to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday by Lupe o le Soaga, which sealed the Samoan side’s group stage qualification, player-coach Anthony Samuela wanted his side to be clinical in front of goal against Veitongo.
“I think we need to get more in the front third and finish our goals and just go from there,” he said.
Veitongo were thrashed 9-2 when the teams last met in 2018 but Mark Uhatahi believes his team now have what it takes to turn the tables.
“I think there is a bit of a balance between Tupapa and the Tonga team but what I can see is that our team is fitter and quicker and we’ll make use of that on the ground when we come against Tupapa,” he said.
The winners of the qualifying stage will join Group D, while the runner-up will enter Group C.