They may both belong to the Melanesian brotherhood but when Nalkutan and Marist meet in tomorrow’s OFC Champions League quarter final at Korman Stadium there will be no love lost between them.
Saturday’s match is a significant one.
For the first time these sides have made it through the Group Stage – Nalkutan on their Champions League debut – and both have a strong desire to prove they’re deserving of their place.
But while Marist have continued to prepare as they did for the group, with regular training and competitive matches in the S-League Championship, it hasn’t been such smooth sailing for the hosts.
Following their qualification to the quarter finals, a majority of the Nalkutan squad returned to Tanna to celebrate the success with local fans.
Coach Moise Poida said although it was important to acknowledge the supporters, it did have an impact on the team’s preparations for this weekend’s match, as did the domestic league.
“We haven’t been able to prepare as we did in the beginning for the Group Stage,” Poida said.
“The team returned later than expected from Tanna, we have the league championship games and it’s been difficult to get all the players to training before we went into camp last week.”
Despite the bumps, Poida said the team spirit remains high.
“The mood in camp is very positive, we’re training daily, managing injuries well. We are good and ready for this weekend’s game.”
After hosting Group D, Marist have had to leave home shores for the first time in this year’s competition and although that seems like a daunting factor, the 2017 S-League runners-up are taking it in their stride.
“I don’t think it’s difficult because the boys have experienced travel before,” coach Jerry Allen said.
“My main concern about my team is making sure we step up like we did in Honiara.”
By holding 2017 finalists and New Zealand club champions Team Wellington to an opening day draw Marist showed they are a side capable of mixing with the big boys.
With tomorrow’s opportunity to go further than ever before, the team are focused and driven to perform and take Champions League football back to their loyal fans in Solomon Islands.
“We are ready, we have no fear and will give our best in the game,” Allen said.
Marist captain Henry Fa’arodo is looking forward to the task ahead and believes the match presents a great challenge for both sides.
“I think for me there’s some pressure, this is a big one. I think for Nalkutan to be group leaders and to be here in the quarter final shows the quality that they have as well,” the former Solomon Islands international said.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about and it will make the game very interesting and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Nalkutan will have an inkling of what awaits them against Marist thanks to the three Solomon Islanders who joined the squad for this competition – James Naka, Nelson Sale and Joses Nawo.
Naka isn’t available for the match as he serves a suspension carried over from the group stage, but the remaining duo will know their opponents very well having played against, and alongside them, in the past.
In addition, the return of Bong Kalo from injury will provide a new element to the line-up for Nalkutan and their opponents to consider.
Meanwhile Marist will have strong memories of Vanuatu opponents after meeting Erakor Golden Star in the Group Stage of the 2017 edition in Tahiti.
Marist held their own well for the majority of that encounter, but a late strike in the 85th minute saw Erakor take a 2-1 victory.
With a new coach – who led the only non-New Zealand or Australian side to victory in this competition – and a shuffle in the player ranks things will certainly be different for Marist this time, and they’re hoping it will be the kind of different that leads to an historic semi-final berth.
Nalkutan FC [VAN] vs, Marist FC [SOL]
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Saturday 7 April
Kick-off: 16h00 local (16h00 SOL / 17h00 NZL / 15h00 PNG)
Referee: Campbell-Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Glen LOCHRIE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: John PAREANGA (COK)
Fourth Official: Sione LELENGA (TGA)
Vital Statistics: Azariah Soromon’s four goals in three games puts him up among the leading scorers for this competition with only Auckland City’s Emiliano Tade and Team Wellington’s Ross Allen with more.
The Players: After being forced to sit out the Group Stage with injury, Vanuatu international Bong Kalo is back on his feet and rearing to make an impact on the competition. However, he’ll need to battle to win his place back in a talented Nalkutan squad.
Coach Quote: “Nalkutan will be ready to play against Marist. We have an objective which is clear – to go further even though we come from the islands. I’m asking the crowd to come and support Nalkutan FC in what will be a high level game.”
Team List: 3. Nelson SALE, 4. Kevin SHEM, 5. Robert THOMAS, 6. Raoul COULON, 7. Bob ISAAC, 8. Jean Pierre TAUSSI, 10. Bong KALO, 11. Azariah SOROMON, 12. Eddison STEPHENS, 13. Pierre ALICK, 14. Kerry IAWAK, 15. Ignace YAMACK, 16. Daniel NATOU, 17. Joses NAWO, 18. Jeffery TES, 20. Kaloran FIRIAM (GK), 27. Richard MANURIKI, 30. Antoine TAIWIA (GK)
Suspended: 9. James NAKA
Coach: Moise POIDA [VAN]
Vital Statistics: Marist has only once before met Vanuatu opponents in the OFC Champions League. That match was last year when they played Erakor Golden Star in Tahiti during Group D, which they lost 2-1.
The Players: A prolific goal scorer in domestic competitions, Mathias Iani finally broke his OFC Champions League duck in the final group stage match against Lupe Ole Soaga where he netted twice. If he has retained that form he’ll be tough for Nalkutan to contain.
Coach Quote: “The information we have on Nalkutan so far is that they have some young players, they are fit and dangerous especially in the transition from defending to attack.”
Team List: 1. Anthony TALO (GK), 2. Joachim WAROI, 3. Michael BOSO, 5. Jeffery BULE, 6. Robert LAUA, 7. Atkin KAUA, 8. Henry FA’ARODO, 9. Abraham INIGA, 10. Timothy BAKALE, 11. Mathias IANI, 13, Natanela BERO 14. Koriak UPAIGA, 19. Joel PAKALIKI, 20. Davidson TOME, 22. Harold NAUANIA (GK), 24. Thomas TALOGA
Coach: Jerry ALLEN [SOL]