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Henderson Eels Open OFC Women's Champions League Campaign With Victory

Poor weather yesterday might have meant that Henderson Eels were made to wait a little longer to make their OFC Women’s Champions League debut than they’d hoped, but their patience was rewarded with a 2-0 win over Avatiu FC in Honiara.

A heavy downpour in the area had led to the match – originally scheduled for Sunday – to be moved to Monday, with a shift of venue also necessary, from SIFF Academy to Lawson Tama Stadium.

The late changes and subsequent inconvenience didn’t appear to hamper the Solomon Islands champions’, as they scored twice in the second-half to secure the win and give their home fans something to cheer about amid the gloomy local weather.

Fellow debutants Avatiu FC kicked off but possession was quickly turned over as the Eels looked to stamp their authority at their home ground, camping out in the visitors’ half for much of the first quarter of an hour. The pick of the shots on target came in the 13th minute, as the Eels’ Sandy Aniholland drew a strong one-handed save from Avatiu goalkeeper Meripa Seumanutafa.

Avatiu, meanwhile, were largely content to sit deep and hit Henderson Eels on the counter. This almost paid off for them in the 24th minute, as Pauline Ngaroi latched onto a long ball in the Eels’ penalty area, but couldn’t take advantage of the out of position goalkeeper Betty Sade.

Early substitute Mary Maefiti thought she’d broken the deadlock late in the first half, with her powerful drive from outside the area in the 45th minute, but was denied by a strong save from Seumanutafa. Avatiu’s goalkeeper, with her mobile saves and commanding organisation of her penalty area, drew admiring cheers from the otherwise partisan Lawson Tama crowd, and was the primary reason for the first half finishing goalless.

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Avatiu Head Coach Mii Savage made her first change at half time, bringing Te Upoko Tuariki on for Kataraina Piri, whilst Henderson Eels’s eleven remained the same as the second period began.

The locals started the second half with renewed vigour and it duly paid off as Madeleine Arukau scored off a 54th minute corner, latching onto the loose ball to spark joyous celebrations on the bench and in the stands. A second almost followed a couple of minutes later, but Seumanutafa was on hand to snuff out Ella Vakatao’s run.

Arukau turned provider in the 61st minute, starting a mazy run deep in Avatiu’s half and setting up Vakatao with a lovely slide rule pass. Beating the offside trap, the Eels number 11 made no mistake sliding the ball past a stranded Seumanutafa.

Despite the Cook Islands team’s determined efforts in defence to keep the deficit to two in the final quarter of an hour, they were unable to build upon that and threaten at the other end.

With the initial postponement of this fixture, both sides will now have a short turnaround, with their second fixtures in Group A taking place on Wednesday.

Avatiu FC: 0

Henderson Eels FC: 2 (Madeleine ARUKAU 54’, Ella VAKATAO 61')

HT: 0-0

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