Over 2000 fans were privileged to watch young footballers of Ifira Blackbird FC staking their claim in the highest league of the country when they ended the unbeaten run of the reigning Port Vila Football Premiere League champions, Amical FC, at Port Vila's National stadium last Saturday.
The new-comers had accomplished what no other side had done for the past season by emphatically beating the O-League contenders in a match that saw Amical as lopsided favorites to win.
The youngsters from "Ifira Tenuku" convincingly won with two great goals either side of the halves in a no-fluke thrilling match, making a statement not only to their opponents of the day but all football teams and fans alike that they are no longer merely partakers of the top flight but genuine contenders hailing from a rich Ifiran heritage of national footballing greats.
In fact, the Ifiran side was inspired by Andrew Chichirua captain and anchor in defense and younger brother, the new talented goal poacher Waute Chichirua, whom is named after Waute, the father of legendary Erakor and Vanuatu footballers Pretin and Roger Waute. Like their father Aloan and Issau Chichirua who was once Vanuatu's mainstay midfielder, young Andrew and Waute are extremely talented.
The young Ifiran team pitted their talent against a great Amical line-up boasting the likes of Solomon national reps first-choice defender Nelson Sale and Solomon futsal hero Jack Witney amongst other top-class players.
Amical kicked off to a strong start with good flow and slick passing added with fancy footwork contributed by the Solomon flavor in the side. Unfazed the young Ifirans formed tight nit defense restricting the Amical strikers to long distance shots. Whilst Andrew commandeered the defense, unknown younger brother Waute struck fear into the heart of the Amical's defense. Waute almost scored, when with his first attempt outside the box, angled a low ball which grazed past the second post almost catching the keeper off-guard.
This play somewhat instilled a whiff of confidence as the Ifiran side stepped up the tempo and shifted two gears, matching Amical ball for ball and pass for pass and putting Amical's stars on the back foot momentarily. Amical continued to display their ball work prowess with midfield maestro Yelou leading the ball distribution which was however hampered as the attack led by in-form scoring machine and Amical captain Masaufaukalo was continuously restricted by Andrew calmly leading his iron clad defense.
With pressure piling on the Ifiran defense, Waute began to pester the Amical defense with good runs and ball control from counter-attacks. Football fans began to sense this was a different Ifira side in contrast to prior poor performances.
A counter-attack down the wing saw Ifiran no. 9 skillfully head a through ball into the path of the very fast Waute who side-stepped Amical's fullback Paul, cheekily slipping the ball through the legs of Nelson Sale and racing past another defender before cracking a low hard shot past the stunned goal keeper to a loud roar of every supporter in the stadium as they rallied the Ifiran youngsters.
The game picked up momentum as the Goliaths of the Premiere League attacked with waves of one-two passing in search of a setup for an equaliser but the Ifiran defense stood firm, bolstered by their young in-form keeper Kaltapu Sablan who thwarted many a shot from the likes of Masaufakalo and Witney.
Amical was gifted their prime goal opportunity when referee Alick adjudged Kaltapu to having breached the three-second rule for ball-in-hand and they were technically awarded a free-kick at the edge of the Ifira penalty box. Masaufakalo's first attempt went high over the cross bar but referee gave Amical another attempt for technical infringements in the Ifiran defense wall. The retake of the free-kick was curled in by Masaufakalo equalizing for Amical.
The Ifirans came under constant pressure by the Premiere League champions but held on with Andrew's back four shining with calm interceptions and ball retention as they kept the Amical forwards at bay.
Ifiran's then began to match their opponents' slick passing with some of their own football medicine and magic.
The second half play began just as the first half ended, with both teams building pressure and responding with promising counter-attacking. Amical's swift ball flow and goal attempts were matched in kind with Ifira's deft passing and counter-attacking.
Dominance in ball possession by Amical was matched by classy distributions and steadfast defense from the Ifiran side. Amical increased urgency as Derek Malas came on to avoid an impending embarrassment by the champions. Malas contributed to pile up pressure on the Ifirans as Amical showered an onslaught of attack.
As play was concentrated in the Ifirans' side of the field, Waute's quiet confidence and determination paid off as he chased a loose ball into the corner and powerfully dribbled past a fullback and defender before rolling the ball into the onrush of three Ifiran attackers who bombarded the Amical goal with a gifted goal for Ifira placing the under-dogs into the lead.
Towards the dying minutes, keeper Kaltapu made an amazing save from a close shot from Fenedy Masaufakalo and Jack Witney hit the crossbar as the Ifirans held on to deservingly claim the win.
Despite, not being able to progress through to the finals of the TVL Opening Cup, Ifira Blackbirds Football Club is the first club of Premier to beat Amical since it won the Championships last year and this year.
This is a tremendous achievement considering they are newcomers to the premier league and this should be a wonderful result not only for Ifira but other Premiere teams including Amical as they prepare for O-League so as not to be complacent.