Three of the teams were absent from the 2015 edition, Nadi FA of Fiji, AS Magenta from New Caledonia and Preliminary winners Kiwi FC of Samoa, and all will be hoping to make a triumphant return to the prestigious competition.
AS Tefana of Tahiti round out the group, a side which experienced disappointing results by their own standard in 2015, earning just one draw and two losses in their three group matches.
“This is an important competition for us and we know that all the clubs have come here to win and we are the same, that’s our principal objective,” coach Sebastian Labayen says.
Labayen has retained a strong core from their previous campaign, adding the likes of Nicholas Vallar, 2012 Tahiti captain, to reinforce the group. After missing out through injury in 2015, goalkeeper Xavier Samin is back and hoping to secure a starting spot but will have stiff competition from up-and-coming keeper Stevens Hiriga, as well as national goalkeeper Mikael Roche.
The club, which has a partnership with St Etienne in France, has dominated Tahiti’s national league this season amassing 84 points from 21 games – a whopping 19 points more than their closest rival Central. That tally includes 19 wins, 2 draws and zero losses which will see Labayen and his squad come into this match feeling relatively comfortable.
Kiwi FC will come into the competition as underdogs given they qualify to the competition via the preliminary competition where they compete with the Tonga, American Samoa and Cook Islands champions for a berth at the Champions League proper.
In 2014 Kiwi flew through the qualifier, but with a heavily reduced squad turning out for the team in Fiji it was a hard task for the Samoan side to make the step up. This time around, while they can again rely on the brilliance of an ageless Barry Lewis to shore up their defence, the club has a heavy national team slant with Desmond Faaiuaso and Silao Malo making the switch to Kiwi.
Coach Phineas Young is also at the helm of Samoa’s national team and will be using this competition as an opportunity to look ahead to Papua New Guinea and the OFC Nations Cup. However the task at hand is also important and Kiwi is not a side that will go down without a fight.
“I’m looking for improvement,” Young says, “We are a better team than two years ago. Our level is up, our passing and the stopping, everything has improved. We’ve learned a lot since our last campaign in the Champions League.”
Nadi FA, like their counterparts from Samoa, struggled to make the leap to OFC Champions League level in 2014. Neither side managed to score a goal in that edition, and Kamal Swamy is keen to write a different story into the history books this time around.
With Fiji international Napolioni Qasevakatini leading the charge his strike force is in good stead with the U-23 representative having played a key role in helping Fiji qualify for their first Olympic Football Tournament.
Overall Nadi is not a hugely experienced side when it comes to the region’s annual club competition, however enough members of the 2014 squad remain to ensure their teammates understand the Champions League is not the same as Fiji’s domestic competition.
While the side is concentrating on the challenge ahead, team director Javed Ahmed says the tropical cyclones which have been wreaking havoc in Fiji over the past few months has made preparations difficult.
“With the recent natural hitting Fiji, the cyclone and floods we’ve had have disrupted preparation, it’s less than ideal but it’s not an excuse.
“We will go into the match with the aim of winning it, but we wouldn’t be too disappointed with a draw.”
AS Magenta started slow in 2014 and former national team coach Alain Moizan knows that is what cost them a semi-final berth two years ago.
He has a strong squad that mixes experience, the likes of Noel Kaudre, Pierre Wajoka and Koris Gorendiawe, with youth and talent in the form of Marius Bako, Loic Wakanumune and Marek Aucher.
Having come so close to tasting the ultimate glory in this competition in 2005 when they made the final against Sydney FC, there is a strong feeling within the squad that this is their year. Having seen Gaitcha finish the best a New Caledonia side has done for a number of years, there is plenty driving this squad to improve on that semi-final finish.
“We’re trying to make the players understand, and it’s not easy as many of them haven’t experienced it, that there are just three matches to qualify for the semi-finals and the first match is crucial.
“We absolutely have to win it to finish at the top of the group.”
Nadi FA v AS Tefana
Auckland, New Zealand
Friday 8 April, 2016
Referee: Cambell-Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Glen LOCHRIE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Bernard MUTUKERA (SOL)
Fourth Official: Robinson BANGA (VAN)
The players: Napolioni Qasevakatini is one of Nadi’s best hopes for getting on the score sheet in 2016. A big, powerful striker, he has pace and the ability to stay on his feet in most challenges. He’s a hard player to halt and most defences will struggle to contain him.
The vital statistics: Not a single player in the Nadi squad has ever scored a goal in the OFC Champions League, and just six players have made more than one previous appearance.
Team Director quote: “We haven’t seen much of Tefana for the last couple of years, we have seen some videos from their last campaign in 2012. That doesn’t give us any indication of how good they are, but we expect them to be very strong, the strongest team in our group. Like all French Polynesian teams we expect them to be technically very good, but we think we can match them in the physical department.” – Team Director Javed Ahmad
Squad list: 1. Samuela TAMANISAU, 2. Luke RAWADAMU, 3. Rahul KRISHNA, 4. Alfred NAICKER, 5. Waisake TABACAVA, 6. Anish KHEM, 7. William VALENTINE, 8. Munit KRISHNA, 9. Vuniuci TIKOMAIMEREKE, 10. Evander NAVOSA, 11. Ilimotama JESE, 12. Ame VOTONIU, 13. Lekima GONERAU, 14. Mataiasi TOMA, 15. Napolioni QASEVAKATINI, 16. Eliki RAVOSAI, 17. Afraz ALI, 18. Atonio TUIVUNA, 23. Vereti DICKSON (GK)
Coach: Kamal SWAMY (FIJ)
The players: This side has standout additions up front and in the back – the three members of the Tehau family in the squad are all dangerous in front of goal. Angelo Tchen, he of Tiki Toa fame, is an outstanding defender and is comfortable pushing forward to find the net too.
The vital statistics: Tefana managed just one point in the 2015 OFC Champions League following a 1-1 draw with Vanuatu club Tafea FC.
Coach quote: I think Nadi will have an Anglo-Saxon style of playing, a long game. Our objective, no matter who the opposition is we meet during this competition, is to impose our style on the game.”
Squad list: 1. Stevens HIRIGA (GK), 2. Yoann LE FOLL, 3. Taumihau TIATIA, 5. Tauatua LUCAS, 6. Tunoa TEVAEARAI, 7. Temarii TINORUA, 8. Jess HOROI, 9. Tauhiti KECK, 10. Steevy CHONG HUE, 11. Tehina TEMORERE, 12. Alvin TEHAU, 13. Stanley ATANI, 14. Jonathan TEHAU, 15. Jean Claude CHANG KOEI CHANG, 16. Manutea TAAE, 17. Manutahi TEREMATE, 18. Kaena ONUU (TAH), 19. Heimano BOUREBARE, 20. Olivier LEE, 21. Angelo TCHEN, 22. Nicolas VALLAR, 23. Xavier SAMIN (GK), 29. Mikael ROCHE (GK)
Coach: Sebastian LABAYEN (TAH)
Kiwi FC v AS Magenta
Auckland, New Zealand
Friday 8 April, 2016
Referee: Amos ANIO (PNG)
Assistant Referee 1: Norman BAFINU SALI (PNG)
Assistant Referee 2: Gareth SHEEHAN (NZL)
Fourth Official: George TIME (SOL)
The players: Desmond Faaiuaso is an almost ageless talisman for Samoa and his experienced, combined with the talent and te
chnique he has honed over the years will be key. The defensive nous of Barry Lewis commanding the Kiwi back line will be crucial to keeping opponents at bay.
The vital statistics: With six appearances in the OFC Champions League, Lionel Taylor is Kiwi’s most experienced player in this competition.
Coach quote: “Magenta is a very good team, we in Samoa, we are in the bottom four and these guys are high up in the OFC rankings so it’s a good challenge for us. We are the underdogs but I’m telling you, there is no excuse. Nothing is impossible in football, anything can happen when we believe in ourselves.”
Squad list: 1. Faalavelave MATAGI (GK), 2. Henry PUPI, 3. Michael BURETA, 4. Lapalapa TONI, 5. Lawrie LETUTUSA, 6. Beato APANAI, 7. Jarrell SALE, 8. Thomas HEROWAI, 9. Barry LEWIS, 10. Desmond FAAUIASO, 11. Paulo SCANLAN, 12. Mike SAOFAIGA, 13. Lionel TAYLOR, 14. Penitito TUMUA, 15. Tomas MOSQUERA, 16. Luki GOSCHE, 17. Isaia FEALOFANI, 18. Lafi IOANE (GK), 19. Fenika TAMOTO, 20. Silao MALO, 22. Faafua ATAGA (GK)
Coach: Phineas YOUNG (SAM)
The players: Pierre Wajoka desperately wants an OFC Champions League title for his mantelpiece before his inevitable retirement from international football. With that kind of desire driving him he’ll be pushing his teammates to their limit to deliver.
The vital statistics: AS Magenta are currently on form in the New Caledonia Super Ligue with three wins and a draw in their opening four matches, and an impressive 18 goals scored.
Coach quote: “We don’t know a lot about this team so this will be a discovery for us. I have confidence in my team and I hope that this match will go well for us.”
Squad list: 1. Jelen IXOEE (GK), 2. Jean-Christ WAJOKA, 3. Georges BEARUNE, 4. Loic WAKANUMUNE, 5. Jean Brice WADRIAKO, 6. Cedric SANSOT, 7. Noel KAUDRE, 8. Marius BAKO, 9. Marek AUCHER, 10. Pierre WAJOKA, 11. Mickael TIAOU, 12. Joel WAKANAMUNE, 13. Patrick DIAKE, 14. Kevin NEMIA, 15. Pierrot JELEWED, 16. Leopold MAKALU, 17. Gregory TARAMOIN, 18. Joris GORENDIAWE, 19. Jeremy DOKUNENGO, 20. Bill NICHOLLS, 21. Noarii FORTEZ, 29. Leon IXOEE (GK), 30. Victor MESSEAUD
Coach: Alain MOIZAN (FRA)