(Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek)
Coaches and captains of the five competing teams have completed pre-tournament media duties ahead of Thursday’s kickoff in the inaugural OFC Women’s Champions League tournament in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
There was an air of excitement around the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium in the nation’s capital as the teams came together to chat to a myriad of local and international media.
Labasa Women FC coach Arthur Simmons revealed his side has had to overcome a major hurdle to be ready for the tournament.
“Our handicap is that half of our squad lives on the main island and half our squad lives on the other island where Labasa is from so we had to fly half the players in for a two-week camp and that is our greatest hurdle, so we are just happy to be here at this tournament,” Simmons lamented.
Labasa Women FC kick off their campaign against Samoan side Kiwi FC in the opening match of the tournament at 12pm (PNG time) on Thursday.
Kiwi FC was the last side to arrive having made the journey from Apia to Auckland, onto Sydney and then Port Moresby. Coach Leti Tamasese is relishing the chance for her players to get some international experience.
“For Samoa, it’s a country that prioritises rugby as a sport but for us at Kiwi FC we have developed the women’s programme and the girls have a passion for the game and they are so looking forward to this tournament,” Tamasese said.
“It’s going to be a challenging game for us (against Labasa), but this tournament will bring the best out of the girls and they will showcase their hidden talents,” she added.
The second match on the opening day has the host nation’s entry Hekari United FC playing New Caledonia’s AS Academy Féminine (Kickoff 5pm PNG time).
For AS Academy Féminine coach Coralie Bretegnier it’s a wonderful opportunity to strike the hosts first up.
“We are excited, never 100 percent fully prepared but we are pleased to be here and ready to compete,” Bretegnier said. “Hekari is going to be quite big on Thursday and we know they will be a difficult team to play against.”
Erickson Komeng has just returned to Port Moresby after coaching the Hekari United men’s team at the OFC Champions League in Vanuatu and he acknowledges his side are tournament favourites but is taking nothing for granted.
“For us it’s going to be a hard road since we are playing in front of our home people, but we are ready, and we are going to give it our best in this competition. Playing on home turf is a bit difficult because they expect us to perform. The teams coming here are well prepared to play so we need to be prepared to play.
“The national players we have in our side are experienced and bring flavour to the team and I am banking on my international players to step up,” Komeng said.
Koloale FC, from Honiara in the Solomon Islands, have an opening day bye and will open their campaign on Saturday against Labasa Women FC.
Coach Crystal Bakolo is relishing the additional time to prepare her players, noting they’ve had a strong buildup with the National League underway in the Solomon Islands.
“We have been preparing well with our National League going on and are well prepared for this tournament. Having some girls in our national team helps,” Bakolo said.
The teams arrived at a very wet Port Moresby this week, but all the coaches were adamant they would adapt to any weather conditions they face in the coming fortnight.
The last word goes to Simmons, whose Labasa Women FC players have made the most of the Papua New Guinea hospitality.
“The food has been good, too good, I have to say to my players to cut down on what they are eating, we haven’t done any training yet.”