Group B of the 2018 OFC Champions League has the potential to be a closely fought affair as the region’s premier clubs competition returns to Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti on Sunday (local time).
While it may not be the first rodeo in Champions League terms for Solomon Warriors, Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star, AS Lossi from New Caledonia or hosts AS Dragon, none have ever made it beyond this stage and so the race to claim the two quarter final places will be fierce.
The expanded play-off format this season – featuring home and away semi-finals and a new quarter final stage – is a huge carrot for the teams involved, especially with the sides potentially evenly matched.
Moses Toata, coach of Solomon Islands champions Solomon Warriors, who return to the international stage for their fourth Champions League campaign, agreed it would be a tight contest for the prized qualification spots but argued the host club began as frontrunners.
“To be honest, I think the home ground will be a clear advantage. We’re looking forward to compete but AS Dragon is the team to beat,” Toata said.
However Warriors start with a clash against Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star who should benefit from a touch of local knowledge too. Making their debut last year, Erakor played their games at the same venue, with their only victory coming against Solomon Island opposition (a 2-1 win over Marist).
Erakor’s coach Obed Jimmy understood the importance of their opening clash and believed their execution would need to be near-flawless to claim all three points.
“Our teamwork will need to be perfect,” Jimmy said.
“Our passes, our shooting, when we defend and when we attack we need to be sure we are doing everything properly. We’ve been training for this event for the past month and I believe in the boys and what we can achieve tomorrow”
That opening clash is followed by an all Francophone affair between AS Dragon and AS Lossi.
The strengthening of Dragon’s French connection through the recruitment of veteran Tahiti attacker Marama Vahirua and former Ligue 1 teammate Reynald Lemaitre bolsters their chances on their return to Champions League for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
Tamatoa Tetauira who played in Dragon’s previous two campaigns as a teenager has grown into a leader since then and captains the hosts this time around.
“We’re happy to be back in elite competition,” said the 21-year-old Tahiti international.
“For every Polynesian player it is a huge honour to play in the Champions League. You’re up against the best players in the region and every player wants to play the best to test themselves and to improve.”
For Lossi’s part, they arrived in Papeete early but have been hit by the loss of a number of players. Fabio Kela, Fonzy Ranchain and Kévin Maitran are unavailable for personal or professional reasons while Nathanaël Hmaen was a late withdrawal due to injury.
AS Lossi defender Pierre Kauma said that despite the absentees, the team is primed.
“The pitch will talk,” said Kauma. “Our team will be ready to rise to the challenge. We may be without some key players but we are focussed on who is here and we are ready to play.
AS Lossi coach Victor Wejieme was more measured in his comments saying his team was full of respect and humility but did pay tribute to OFC for the expanded format and what it meant for teams throughout Oceania.
“I want to stress that the new format is very good for Lossi and with two teams being able to qualify for the semi-finals Lossi can improve slowly but surely. The format will help improve football in the region, giving more opportunity for teams to progress into the latter stages,” he said.
Match Day One of Group B begins with Erakor Golden Star facing Solomon Warriors at 3pm local time on Sunday followed AS Dragon squaring off against AS Lossi at 6pm.
Erakor Golden Star [VAN] vs. Solomon Warriors [SOL]
Pirae, Papeete, Tahiti
Sunday 11 February
Kick-off: 15h00 (local)
(12h00 NCL/NCL/VAN 12/2)
Referee: Campbell-Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Mark RULE (NZL).
Assistant Referee 2: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Peter LINNEY (NZL)
Erakor Golden Star
Vital Statistics: Stade Pater proved a happy hunting ground for Erakor striker Tony Kaltak. In last year’s OFC Champions League Kaltak netted five times in three games at the same venue for Golden Star.
The Players: Versatile attacker Ronaldo Wilkins has showed immense potential and made the most of Vanuatu’s FIFA U-17 World Cup adventure last year scoring a goal and setting up another in a heart-breaking 3-2 defeat to Mexico in their opening game.
Coach Quote: “Some of the players were here last year and that experience is a big help to us. We are looking forward to facing some tough teams in this group.”
Team List: 1. Chikau MANSALE (GK), 2. Jack WANEMUT, 3. Jesse KALOPONG, 4. Gordshem DONA, 5. Selwyn VATU, 6. Robert TOUKOUNE, 7. Kaltfer KALTACK, 8. Ronaldo WILKINS, 9. Tony KALTACK, 10. Jacky RUBEN, 11. Nemani ROQARA, 12. Bernard DANIEL, 13. Godine TENENE, 15. Elkington MOLIVAKARUA, 16. Joseph IARUEL, 18. Barry MANSALE, 19. Serge DANIEL (GK), 20. Gerhsom KALSONG
Coach: Obed JIMMY (VAN)
Vital Statistics: Warriors have faced ni-Vanuatu opposition in two of their three OFC Champions League campaigns, losing all three encounters to Amicale although their 2016 defeat result was initially a 1-1 draw that was overturned on appeal.
The Players: Warriors will need to cover for Vanuatu international defender Jason Thomas who has not yet been able to travel to Tahiti to join his teammates. The Honiara club could still field two ni-Vanuatu players – John Alick and Kensi Tangis – against their compatriots.
Coach Quote: “We mustn’t fear New Zealand teams if we make the next stage but the most important thing right now is to qualify for the quarter finals.”
Team List: 1. Joseph KOMU (GK), 2. Haddis AENGARI, 3. Allen PETER, 4. Jason THOMAS, 5. Fred FAKARI, 6. Molea TIGI, 7. John ALICK, 8. Jerry DONGA, 9. Judd MOLEA, 10. Ian PAIA, 11. Albert WITNEY, 13. Augustine SAMANI, 14. Emmanuel POILA, 15. Gibson DAUDAU, 17. Bata FURAI, 18. Gagame FENI, 19. Kensi TANGIS, 22. Izomo BIRD (GK)
Coach: Moses TOATA (SOL)
AS Dragon [TAH] vs. AS Lossi [NCL]
Pirae, Papeete, Tahiti
Sunday 11 February
Kick-off: 18h00 (local)
(15h00 NCL/NCL/VAN 12/2)
Referee: Nick WALDRON (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Glen LOCHRIE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Isaac TREVIS (NZL)
Fourth Official: Sione LELENGA (TGA)
Vital Statistics: Dragon’s two OFC Champions League campaigns (in 2012-13 and 2013-14) both saw them finish third in their group. Their debut in 2012-13 included a famous away win over Auckland City and a valuable point against Waitakere United but they ultimately missed out on the semi-finals by a solitary point needing to beat Auckland City at home in their final match which ended in a 1-1 draw.
The Players: Former Caen and AS Nancy fullback Reynald Lemaitre has often taken on a different role for Dragon since making the move from France, operating in central midfield.
Coach Quote: “We’re very happy with this format, giving our team every chance to qualify for the quarter finals. We’ve prepared really well and we’re confident of progressing to the quarter finals”
Team List: 1. Gilbert MERIEL (GK), 2. Victor SNOW, 3. Teata HAUATA, 5. Gabriel VAKOUME, 6. Hennel TEHAAMOANA, 7. Salomon TEVEPAUHU, 9. Samuel HNANYINE, 10. Marama VAHIRUA, 11. Rainui TZE-YU, 12. Logan LEDUC, 14. Sullivan DUEE, 16. Tamatoa TETAUIRA, 17. Louis PETITGAS, 18. Christophe GENDRON, 19. Clyde TINIAU, 20. Reynald LEMAITRE, 21. Teinaore SEINO, 23. Benjamin TARDIVEL (GK)
Coach: Timiona ASEN (TAH)
Vital Statistics: 2018 marks Lossi’s second appearance in the OFC Champions League after their debut two years ago. That campaign in Auckland ended without a point with their best performance a 1-2 loss to eventual runners-up Team Wellington, in which they led at half-time.
The Players: At just 17 years of age, Raoul Wenisso is AS Lossi’s youngest player but brings some rare experience from the world stage having played two of New Caledonia’s three games for at the last year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, including 90 minutes in their highly credible draw against Japan.
Coach Quote: “We came here with lots of respect and humility and we will take that humility into the competition. Everything will be decided on the pitch.”
Team List: 1. Nicodem HMAEN (GK), 2. Jules KAUMA, 3. Jonathan KAKOU, 4. Jean Paul READ, 5. Pierre KAUMA, 7. Damien WANAPOPO, 8. Morgan MATHELON, 9. Raoul WENISSO, 10. Mone WAMOWE, 12. Clarence NYIPIE, 13. Warren SAIKO, 14. Robert WAOUKA, 15. Paul OZIKA, 17. Henri WAIMA, 19. Amy HNAGEJE, 21. Ben-Drela HMAEN, 22. Emmanuel WEJIEME (GK), 23. Patrick NYIKEINE (GK)
Coach: Victor WEJIEME (NCL)