Puaikura FC have overcome ill discipline, scorching heat and depleted playing stocks to qualify for the OFC Champions League main draw for the first time.
The Cook Islands football champions defeated Samoa's Lupe Ole Soaga 2-1 on Tuesday at the Champions League qualifying tournament in Nuku'alofa to consolidate top spot with one round remaining.
Goals from Kris Carpenter and Maro Bonsu-Maro put Matt Calcott's side 2-0 up after 31 minutes at Loto-Tonga Soka Stadium.
Both teams were reduced to 10 men in the second half, after Anthony Hobbs and Lapalapa Toni were sent off, before Suivai Ataga struck in the 75th minute for Lupe to ensure a tense finish.
Matt Calcott said the end of the match couldn't come fast enough.
"From where we were sitting it was pretty comfortable at 60-odd minutes and then things started to go downhill a little bit," he said.
"It was just good to hear that final whistle and know that we've secured that spot in New Caledonia which I understand, having spoken to the President (of the Cook Islands Football Association) last night it was the first time they've done that in five attempts so it's great for Puaikura and Cook Islands football as a whole."
Despite their loss, Lupe Ole Soaga coach Paul Ualesi told OFC he was pleased with his side's performance and is keeping his head high.
"It was a really nice game, I take my hat off to the boys. I'm proud of them. They really put 100 per cent into their performance but hard luck for them," he said.
"We had a lot of chances that we weren't finishing well but everything else I think they executed well".
Puaikura have maximum points after two rounds and sit three points clear of Lupe and Tongan title-holders Veitongo FC, who beat Utelei Youth FC from American Samoa 3-1, in the Qualifier Standings.
A draw in Friday's final round match against Utelei would be enough for the Cook Islanders to guarantee top spot, while Lupe Ole Soaga only need a draw against Veitongo to advance to the Champions League, thanks to a superior goal difference.
Matt Calcott said it's nice to have the hard part out of the way.
"We are down to bare bones with injuries and one or two headed back home for work commitments so it's good to get that second game kind of out the way and it's good to know that we have qualified regardless and I suppose Friday's just about whether we end up first or second," he said.