((left to right) Lupe Ole Soaga manager La’i Tautiaga, Auckland City FC coach Albert Riera, Solomon Warriors coach Frank Ne’e Jnr, Suva FC coach Maxwell Thaggard (Credit OFC Media via Phototek)
Defending champions Auckland City FC have delivered tournament hosts Vanuatu glowing praise on the eve of the OFC Champions League.
Oceania’s premier men’s club football tournament is being hosted in the country for the first time with Group B matches played in the capital city Port Vila and Group A matches on the Island of Santo in Luganville.
The Vanuatu Football Association has been in a race against time to get the VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila and Soccer City Stadium in Luganville ready for the tournament after preparations had been hit by the devastation caused by tropical cyclones earlier this year.
Pre-tournament media conferences were held (Saturday) in both Port Vila and in Luganville featuring coaches and captains of the eight participating teams.
Auckland City FC, Suva FC, Solomon Warriors FC, and Lupe Ole Soaga SC are based in Luganville with host nation representative Ifira Blackbird FC, AS Pirae FC, Tiga Sport FC and Hekari United FC playing their Group matches in Port Vila.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s opening Group A fixture against the Solomon Warriors in Luganville, Auckland City captain Cam Howieson waxed lyrical about the quality of facilities they have encountered since their arrival in Vanuatu on Thursday.
(Auckland City FC captain Cam Howieson photo credit OFC Media via Phototek)
“I think they have been top notch.” The New Zealand International said. “From my experiences being in the islands this is the best that it’s been with the training facilities, and looking at the number one pitch it looks top notch. So thank you to the people who made the grounds so good for the players to go out and deliver and play the game that we all love.”
Howieson’s glowing remarks will be music to the ears of the Vanuatu Football Federation and the local organising committee who are preparing to welcome crowds in excess of 5000 at both match venues.
The tournament favourites Auckland City kick their campaign off against the Solomon Warriors at 12pm local time on Sunday.
Solomon Warriors coach Franco Ne’e says his side is up to the immense challenge.
“Right now we feel at home. It will be a good game for us, and we are looking forward to it. We are here to compete, and we will see what happens.” Ne’e said.
The second match on day one in Luganville kicks off at 3pm between Suva FC from Fiji and Samoa’s Lupe Ole Soaga.
Suva coach Maxwell Thaggard says his side has been working hard in preparation.
“We are not only flying the silver flag but also the national flag and we will take plenty of learnings from this tournament and we will grow from it.” Thaggard said.
Manager La’i Tautiaga oversees Lupe with coach Paul Ualesi unavailable due to work commitments. Tautiaga acknowledges his young team will face a much sterner challenge than they encountered in the qualifying tournament in Apia.
“We are trying to continue where we left off in February and we feel fortunate to play against the likes of Auckland City and we have played Solomon Warriors before. We are not going to hide and feel with the talent we have nurtured inside our team; we hope that clubs in more established football countries like Papua New Guinea and New Zealand look out for upcoming players from Samoa to give them a chance of a trial in their leagues.”
Group B matches start on Monday with AS Pirae playing Tiga Sport at 12pm local time followed by Ifira Blackbird against AS Pirae at 3pm.