Herkari prevailed over a determine NBS Tukoko University 3-1 in the first semi-final in Port Moresby while the Port Moresby based Milne Bay franchise club, Eastern Stars saw off a strong challenge from Besta PNG UNited to win the second semi-final 1-0 at the Football Academy field at 11 Mile outside Lae.
The Port Moresby clash between Hekari and University was perhaps the best NSL game so far this season.
University in particular saved their best perfromance for the playoff match pushing Hekari to the limit through out the match. If University retains the same side for the season, they could become serious contenders for the NSL title.
University founder and former University of Technology Vice Chancellor Misty Baloiloi was satisfied with the performance of his boys despite the outcome. Both clubs fielded their strongest line-ups in the eliminator.
But the defending champions were without David Muta who is overseas and Kema Jack, injured.
Coach Jerry Allen still had the likes of Maciu Dunadamu, Raymond Gunemba, Samuel Kini, Clifton Aumae, Eric Komeng, Wira Wama, Pita Bolaitoga, Koriak Upaiga, Andrew Lepani and Taniela Waqa to count on.
University were also well-served with Armstrong Peka, Gerard Lashel, Goroba Tawa, Valentine Nelson, Malakai Ben, Bobby Kabekabe, Sowera Kurti, Hansal Trimio, Lazarus Dapel and goalkeeper, Daniel Kali.
In the opening half, Hekari struggled against the wind while University were running towards Boroko market end of the field giving their opponent extra work in defending their goalmouth.
Hekari strikers, Dunadamu and Gunemba always looked dangerous making defenders Nelson, Dapel, and Ben work overtime to contain them. The reigning champions lacunhed several attacks but goalkeeper Kali was superbwith safe pair of hands denying Hekari any goals.
The home side found the net midway through the first half through Dunadamu who feigned a pass to Gunemba before re-gathering the ball swivelling in the one motion and slotting it in the far corner of the Tukoko goal.
To their credit, University replied quickly through Lashel who cuaght the Hekari defence by surprise with hsi speed and beat goalkeeper Kali to tap into an unguarded net for the equalizer.
Both teams tried to extend the lead but did not find the net. Hekari was on top having more opportunities but were off target.
In the second half, Hekari’s experience and class came to the fore with sustained pressure in the Tukoko half producing a Bolaitoga goal for a 2-1 lead.
From there on, Hekari kept the heat on Tukoko continuously bombarding their teritory. Gunembna missed an easy chances while Daniel Joe’s strike was fended off by Kali.
Unversity’s enthusiastic attack almost struck with a Tirimo lob stranding Kali however defender Eric Komeng was there to fend off the attempt.
The game was still anyone’s until veteran Lepani scored in the dying minutes to seal the match 3-1