Home advantage for the OFC Champions League quarterfinals is up for grabs when Auckland City FC and Lautoka FC clash at Trusts Stadium on Saturday but the Fijian champs know they are firm underdogs against the in-form Group C hosts.
Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea’s Madang and AS Venus from Tahiti are playing for pride after their own hopes of progressing to the last eight with second respective defeats on Wednesday.
Defending champions Auckland City have been nigh-untouchable in their first two games with respective 7-0 and 5-0 wins over AS Venus and Madang FC and now just need a draw against Lautoka to secure top spot.
Coach Ramon Tribulietx says is his side are fully aware of what’s at stake.
“It’s going to decide top spot and therefore who plays their quarterfinal at home. It’s going to be a very difficult game because it’s a one-off and in a one-off game anything can happen so both teams will want to take that top spot,” Tribulietx said.
Tribulietx said Luatoka’s pacey front three of Osea Vakatalesau, Samuela Drudru and the OFC Champions League all-time top scorer Benjamin Totori were an obvious threat and was particularly mindful of the danger the Fijian side could pose in transition.
“Lautoka are a good team and they’ll have a lot of good players out there. It’s one of those teams that may be comfortable without the ball because that’s can when they can exploit the abilities and speed of Totori, Vakatalesau and Drudru – they run very well into space, run very well in behind so we be aware of this team because we’re very sure that they’re going to give us a good test.”
Lautoka have already ensured they advance beyond the group stage for the first time in their history but must beat the defending champions to ensure their quarterfinal is played at Lautoka’s Churchill Park and not on the road.
Coach Kamal Swamy said his side respected the hosts and their achievements at regional and international levels but he and his coaching side had been scouring the footage for any signs of weakness.
Kamal and even called in the help of Fiji national team coach Christophe Gamel, with the Frenchman in town to scout potential players for upcoming international fixtures.
“We must realise that Auckland are a champion side and have been winning this competition for so many years. We do respect them but we will give it our best shot,” Swamy said.
“If you watched how Madang played in the second half they gave them a really good go when they held possession so if we keep possession we have an outside chance to beat them.”
Kamal acknowledged that they might face long periods without the ball and said it would be crucial to hold their nerve before creating and capitalising on opportunities when they win the ball back.
“We’ll be working on the out-of-possession side and our national coach has also been helping. The boys will need to be focussed for 90 minutes so they don’t make silly mistakes so we can counter them.”
The early match in Auckland sees Madang FC and AS Venus seeking their first points of the campaign and something positive to return home with after two defeats so far.
Both sides have shown moments of promise with a short-handed Madang squad showing a commitment to playing positive football while Venus led Lautoka for almost an hour before conceding two goals to exit the competition.
The manner of their elimination was still tough to swallow but Venus coach Sam Garcia was confident his side could dust themselves off.
“It’s an international game in the OFC Champions League and we’ll give our all to finish the tournament with a win,” Garcia said.
“Morale-wise, it’s a bit difficult after the game against Lautoka, but the boys are good, we’ll see tomorrow. We’ll take the game as we did Wednesday, I’ll make a few changes to the team and try to enjoy it.”
“Madang plays a different style as Lautoka. They’re a team that plays with the ball a lot, with some quick players. I thought they performed quite well against Auckland City so what awaits us won’t be easy.”
Madang coach Maurie Wasi echoed the sentiments of his counterpart, adding there was one important thing missing form their performances to date.
“We’re just going to go out there and try to win the game,” Wasi said.
“Hopefully we play like we did against Auckland and in the first game. If we can add goals to that we’ve got a chance. We’re just going out there to try and get a result.”
Madang FC and AS Venus kick off at 1pm on Saturday followed by the Group C decider between Auckland City FC and Lautoka FC at 4pm.
Madang FC [PNG] vs. AS Venus [TAH]
Auckland, New Zealand
Saturday 2 March
Kick-off: 13h00 (local)
(10h00 PNG, 12h00 FIJ, 14h00 TAH Fri)
Referee: Joel HOPKEN (VAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Marc SINYEUE (NCL)
Assistant Referee 2: Hilmon SESE (VAN)
Fourth Official: George TIME (SOL)
Vital Statistics: After scoring 7 goals in their first two OFC Champions League games in 2017, Madang have scored just one in three games since then – Maskulan Pulung’s strike against Lautoka in their opening game in Auckland.
The Players: Charles Lepani was outstanding in goal for Madang on Wednesday and while he eventually conceded five against a dominant Auckland, he made several top quality saves to deny the defending champions from padding the score-line even further.
Coach Quote: “It will be tough. Venus played well in the last game but unfortunately they couldn’t hold out Lautoka. They’re a good side and they showed if teams are not careful they can punish them. All the teams in the champions league aren’t here for nothing – they’re a good side. We’ll treat them the respect we’ve shown the other two teams so far.”
Team List: 1-Mikes GEWA (GK), 3-Abel Linday REDENUT, 4-Darren POLLY, 5-Langarap SAMOL, 6-Samuel KINI, 9-Maskulan PULUNG, 7-Maximillion SEGUM, 8-Michael FOSTER, 10-Emmanuel AIREM, 11-Vanya MALAGIAN, 12-Nigel MALAGIAN, 13-Jonnel KAMBUAL, 14-Neil HANS (C), 15-Hanson TOPIO, 16-Papalau AWELE, 18-Stahl GUBAG, 21-Charles LEPANI (GK), 23-Solomon MAPAI.
Coach: Mauri WASI (PNG)
Vital Statistics: AS Venus have six players aged 20 or under in their squad. The youngest of those, goalkeeper Tevaearai Tamatai is just 16 and coach Sam Garcia has hinted he would play the youngster in their final match.
The Players: Roonui Tehau caused the Lautoka defence a few problems on Wednesday. He thought he had earned his side an early penalty but then produced a slick glancing header to give his side the lead. Later it was only the goalkeeping of Beniamino Mateinaqara that denied his a second.
Coach Quote: “Like us they’ll be starting to feel the fatigue a bit, but we need to take them seriously because they’re not going to let the match go. We’ll give our all to break down their game plan, try to counter them. We can see they’re a good team but once again we’ll go in without any pressure, and with respect for Madang.”
Team List: 1-Tamatiti PATIA (GK), 2-Tauarii TAPUTUARAI, 3-Kevin BARBE, 4-Jean-Claude PARAUE, 5-Marcel TIHONI, 6-Hitinui VERNAUDON, 7-Marama AMAU, 8-Faretua MARAETEFAU, 9-Tefai FAEHAU, 10-Teonui TEHAU (C), 11-Raiamanu TETAUIRA, 12-Mauarii TEHINA, 13-Yann PENNEQUIN-LE-BRAS, 18-Ramanui AMAU, 22-Tamatai TEVAEARAI (GK), 23-Mauri HEITAA, 24-Hauragi HURI, 30-Roonui TEHAU.
Coach: Sam GARCIA (TAH)
Auckland City FC [NZL] vs. Lautoka FC [FIJ]
Auckland, New Zealand
Saturday 2 March
Kick-off: 16h00 (local)
(13h00 PNG, 15h00 FIJ, 17h00 TAH Fri)
Referee: Mederick LACOUR (NCL)
Assistant Referee 1: Bertrand BRIAL (NCL)
Assistant Referee 2: Bernard MUTUKERA (SOL)
Fourth Official: Hamilton SIAU (SOL)
Auckland City FC
Vital Statistics: Auckland City have now gone 773 minutes in the OFC Champions League without conceding dating back to their opening group match in the 2017 edition. Counting OFC Champions League and ISPS Handa Premiership matches this season, Auckland have not conceded for 738 minutes of match time since 1-1 draw against Southern United on January 13.
The Players: Emiliano Tade’s five goals in two group games so far has bumped his OPC Champions League to 17, behind only Joao Moreira (18) on the club’s all-time list. Lautoka’s Benji Totori tops the overall list with 23 goals. Tade’s two goals against Madang brought up the player’s 100th goal in all competitions for Auckland City.
Coach Quote: “It’s great to see these youngsters coming through, competing well and carrying the team. They’ve been with us for a long time but it’s the right time. WE need to see how we get through training and how we recover before get a clear a clear idea on who starts on Saturday.”
Team List: 1-Eñaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 2-Liam GRAHAM, 5-Angel BERLANGA (C), 6-Te-Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 7-Cameron HOWIESON, 9-Darren WHITE, 12-Kris BRIGHT, 13-Alfred ROGERS, 14-Cole PEVERLEY, 15-Daniel MORGAN, 17-Reid DRAKE (GK), 19-Micah LEA’ALAFA, 20-Emiliano TADE, 21-Harrison EDGE, 24-Connor TRACEY (GK), 25-Owen PARKER-PRICE, 26-Callum MCCOWATT, 27-Dalton WILKINS.
Coach: Ramon TRIBULIETX (ESP)
Vital Statistics: This is the first time in three attempts that Lautoka have progressed beyond the group stage. In 2009-10 and 2010-11 (via an eight-team format) they finished one and two points respectively behind the winners of their group to miss qualifying for the final.
The Players: Lautoka have six players – Cory Chettleburgh, Kolinio Sivoki, Samuela Drudru, Kavaia Rawaqa, Leisari Qalica and Dave Radrigai sitting on one yellow card in the group stage. A caution against Auckland City would see them suspended for the quarterfinal.
Coach Quote: “It would be an advantage for us to top the group. We hoped that Ba had qualified also – it would’ve been better for the country – but as the only Fijian team to qualify we’ll have the whole country behind us and a big crowd at home.”
Team List: 1-Senirusi BOKINI (GK), 2-Edward JUSTIN, 4-Shazil ALI, 5-Poasa BAINIVALU, 6-Jone VESIKULA, 7-Dave RADRIGAI, 8-Kavaia RAWAQA, 9-Liesari QALICA, 10-Cory CHETTLEBURGH, 11-Praneel NAIDU, 12-Laitia TUILAU, 14-Samuela DRUDRU, 16-Osea VAKATALESAU, 17-Kolinio SIVOKI, 18-Arami VOLAVOLA, 19-Benjamin TOTORI, 20-Brian KALTAK, 22-Benaminio MATEINAQARA (GK / C).
Coach: Kamal SWAMY (FIJ)