Reigning champions Hienghène Sport are not feeling the pressure as title holders ahead of their OFC Champions League 2022 National Playoff fixture this weekend, according to captain Bertrand Kaï.
Hienghène Sport won the OFC Champions League in 2019 which, after the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 editions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the most recent edition of the region’s flagship club competition.
Hienghène Sport defeated AS Magenta in an all-New Caledonia final in 2019, after overcoming New Zealand’s Team Wellington and Fiji’s Ba FC in the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively. In order to book their place in the OFC Champions League main draw for 2022, they will again need to beat domestic rivals, facing SC Ne Drehu in a two-legged National Playoff tie on June 4 and 6.
Both teams have enjoyed promising starts to the 2022 New Caledonia Super Ligue season, with Hienghène Sport currently second and Ne Drehu occupying third place. However, Ne Drehu defeated Hienghène Sport 2-0 in the opening game of the domestic campaign so Kaï is fully aware of the challenge his opponents present.
“These are two round-trip final matches so it will be difficult,” Kaï said.
“SC Ne Drehu will want to beat us since they are on a good start to the Super Ligue and they beat us on the first day. Recovery time will be another challenge, as we will only have one day off.
“But the preparation is going normally, as we are in the middle of the Super Ligue, so it is nothing exceptional.”
Three years on from their OFC Champions League triumph, Hienghène Sport are not letting their champions tag weigh them down. Instead, long-serving striker Kaï is hopeful the success from 2019 can spur his team on.
“We were champions in 2019 thanks to the work of the whole Hienghène Sport group,” Kaï said.
“Now it is not pressure, but it puts some dynamism back on the team, which enables us to always be competitive.”
After a two-year absence, the return of the OFC Champions League gives the best club teams in the region the chance to represent their nation on the continental stage at the eight-team finals later this year. The winner of the main competition will also have the opportunity of being Oceania’s representative at the 2022 edition of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Hienghène Sport’s win in 2019 was New Caledonia’s first and only OFC Champions League triumph and Kaï is clearly hopeful of repeating the feat and making his nation proud.
“We train normally and play the Super Ligue matches but we also know that we have two games to play for the qualification of the Champions League,” Kai said of the opportunity.
“If we qualify once again it will always be a source of pride and also a recognition of the work of everyone in the club both individually and collectively.”
SC Ne Drehu and Hienghène Sport face off in the first-leg of New Caledonia’s OFC Champions League 2022 National Playoff on June 4, 3.00pm (local time) at Stade Yoshida, Koné, with the second-leg on June 6, 3.00pm (local time) at Stade Numa Daly, Nouméa.