Hienghène Sport’s talismanic skipper Bertrand Kaï says his side must put aside any pressure and play without fear in their maiden OFC Champions League campaign.
The Group B hosts’ first outing in the region’s annual continental club competition is on Sunday against one of the competition’s most experienced clubs, Fijian champions Ba FC.
But if any of Hienghène’s younger players needed a source of advice to calm the nerves, the captain of their national team and one-time OFC Footballer of the Year is an ideal candidate.
Kaï, who has played Champions League football with Noumea’s AS Magenta – is one of their country’s most experienced footballers, second only to Pierre Wajoka and Michel Hmae respectively in terms of appearances and goals for Les Cagous.
Aware of the potential for pressure when playing at home, Kaï has urged his teammates to channel the support at Stade Yoshida but to play with a degree of freedom.
“It is our first time in this competition and we are not the favourites, but we are at home and we know we’ll have strong support behind us.” Kaï said.
“I’ve told them to play without pressure. Our mentality, our mindset, will be so important in what is the first international tournament for many of our players.”
“We are extremely proud to have qualified for the OFC Champions League and of course we will be doing everything we can to try and reach the semi finals and go as far as we can.”
Kaï’s most recent outing at Stade Yoshida didn’t end well, sent off for a head butt on New Zealand’s Ryan Thomas in a OFC Stage 3 FIFA World Cup Qualifier in November but he says how he responds to that can also serve as a lesson for others.
“It was a great disappointment for me but I can only use it as an example and then try my best to get back in the national team after I serve a three-match suspension.”
He says his next appearance, however, is already marked down as a highlight. Born in the north, Kaï says leading Hienghène Sports out for their Champions League debut will be something special.
“I’m from Hienghène but my career started in Noumea. Now I have the chance to play with my home club in the land of my brothers so I can help them in this competition.”
Hienghène Sport face Ba FC at 8pm (local time) on Sunday. Team Wellington and Puaikura kick off Group B at 5pm.