After a long wait in the wings Tupapa Maraerenga of Cook Islands will make their return to the OFC Champions League Group Stage with a difficult first-up challenge against Lae City Dwellers.
These two sides will open this year’s group stage at a new venue for the competition, Korman Stadium in Vanuatu, before host club Nalkutan FC take on Ba of Fiji.
Tupapa have long sought their place alongside the region’s best and captain Mii Joseph is pleased the side finally have a chance to prove themselves.
“Puaikura made history when they qualified last year and now we have a chance to write a story of our own in the history books.
“I believe we have the team to do the job, I have confidence in the squad and what we are capable of.”
Taking on Papua New Guinea club champions Lae City Dwellers will be a true test for the side with one of the most lethal strike partnerships in Oceania – Raymond Gunemba and Nigel Dabinyaba – reunited for this year’s edition.
Between them they have made just under 30 OFC Champions League appearances and scored nine goals with two different clubs.
Gunemba said he’s pleased the successful partnership is back together once again.
“It’s good to have Nigel back for this year’s competition after a successful period playing in Malaysia,” the Lae captain said.
Although they are yet to progress past the group stage, Lae have shown plenty of mettle in their two previous appearances and are pleased that for the first time they won’t have the defending champions Auckland City to deal with so early on.
“Of course it’s nice to experience a group without the pressure of facing Auckland City, but we aren’t underestimating our opponents here by any means,” coach Peter Gunemba said.
“We’ve used the National Soccer League back home to build up to the competition and I’m happy with the development of the boys. We have experience from the past two years and hopefully we should use that when we play.”
Following the opener will be home side Nalkutan FC making their tournament debut against old-hats Ba.
The club from Tanna in Vanuatu has been brought together under the guidance of OFC B Licence coach Moise Poida who has opted to include some experienced players to help those players making their regional debut.
Poida himself has previously led Port Vila-based club Tafea FC in the tournament and said this experience has given him a good grasp of what to expect come kick-off on Saturday.
“These are the best clubs in their countries, we know that it will be difficult against them. But we are looking forward to playing at home.
“We saw a lot of people supporting during the Mini Games in December, I hope people will come out and support the local side too.”
Their opponents Ba have made relatively consistent appearances in the OFC Champions League and have achieved some good results including an appearance in the 2007 final.
The side is keen to get back to those heights and first on that agenda is a quality series of performances in Vanuatu, starting with Nalktuan.
“We are expecting three tough games, especially the first game against Nalkutan as they’re on home soil,” coach Ronil Kumar.
“We’ve been in camp for three weeks, we trained really hard for it so we are coming out here to do our best and take some positive results back home.”
Tupapa Maraerenga [COK] vs. Lae City Dwellers [PNG] #OFCCL #TUPLAE
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Saturday 10 February
Kick-off: 14h00 local
(13h00 PNG / 15h00 FIJ / 17h00 COK 09/02 )
Referee: Kader ZITOUNI (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Simon LOUNT (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Douglas METE (SOL)
Fourth Official: George TIME (SOL)
Vital Statistics: Tupapa Maraerenga made their first appearance in this competition when it was known as the OFC Club Championship, travelling to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to take part in Group B in 2001.
The Players: A late ring-in, youth international goalkeeper Keegan Inia will have his work cut out for him at senior club level. Fortunately a strong backline led by captain Mii Joseph with the irrepressible Sam Maoate-Cox beside him, will provide some excellent cover.
Coach Quote: “I think this next level we are attempting to reach is within our ability, it’s just about putting it together on the day as sometimes you need a little bit of luck, and a lot of hard work.”
Team List: 1. Keegan INIA (GK), 2. Mii JOSEPH, 3. Sean LATIMER, 4. Teina SAVAGE, 5. Roimata KARIKA, 6. Samuel MAOATE-COX, 7. Campbell BEST, 8. Lee HARMON, 9. Geoffrey STRICKLAND, 10. Grover HARMON, 11. Maro BONSU-MARO, 12. Willyn KARIKA, 13. Packock ABBA, 14. Edward BROGAN, 15. Pekay EDWARDS, 16. Flynn O’Brien, 17. Tyrell BARRINGER-TAHIRI, 18. James HOYT, 19. Anthony SAMUELA, 20. Manaariki PIERRE (GK)
Coach: Alex NAPA [COK]
Lae City Dwellers
Vital Statistics: Two Solomon Islanders, Tutizamo Tanito and Andrew Rarangia, are the only non-Papua New Guinea players in the Lae City Dwellers squad.
The Players: While all eyes will be on the dynamic attacking duo of Nigel Dabinyaba and Raymond Gunemba, the side isn’t lacking in talent in other areas of the park. Emmanuel Simon and Valentine Nelson are both excellent players.
Coach Quote: “My expectation is that firstly, we came here to win so we hope to win the first game and hopefully continue through especially against Ba and Nalkutan.”
Team List: 1. Matheson NASA (GK), 2. Maybon PWESEI, 3. Valentine NELSON, Goropaul ALBERT, 5. Mosie MILUBWA, 6. Troy GUNEMBA, 7. Raymond GUNEMBA, 8. Jacob SABUA, 9. Nigel DABINYABA, 10. Obert BIKA, 11. Adolf KUMISI, 12. Mathew DAVID, 14. Emmanuel SIMON, 15. Ken KEPE, 16. Japhet TIAMPO, 17. Billson BULO, 18. Peter DABINYABA JNR., 19. Makis GELMAL, 20. Ronald WARISAN (GK), 21. Clement WILLIS, 22. Andrew RARANGIA, 24. Tutizama TANITO, 30. Dennis GANNI (GK)
Coach: Peter GUNEMBA [PNG]
Nalkutan FC [VAN] vs. Ba FC [FIJ] #OFCCL #NLKBA
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Saturday 10 February
Kick-off: 17h00 local
(16h00 PNG / 18h00 FIJ / 20h00 COK 09/02)
Referee: Mederic LACOUR (NCL)
Assistant Referee 1: Tevita MAKASINI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: John PAREANGA (COK)
Fourth Official: Ben AKWAI (SOL)
Vital Statistics: Nalkutan’s 1-0 victory over Erakor Golden Star saw them win the National Super League, Vanuatu’s top competition, for the first time in the club’s history.
The Players: Shrewd recruitment by coach Moise Poida sees over 85 matches worth of combined experience come into the squad in the form of three Solomon Island picks – Nelson Sale, James Naka and Joses Nawo.
Coach Quote: “We are excited to bring Tanna football to this competition. We will do the best we can, we’re excited about making our debut.”
Team List: 1. John DAVID YOKAI (GK), 2. Noah ROGER, 3. Nelson SALE, 4. Kevin SHEM, 5. Robert THOMAS, 6. Raoul COULON, 7. Bob ISAAC, 8. Jean TAUSSI, 9. James NAKA, 10. Bong KALO, 11. Azariah SOROMON, 12. Eddison STEPHEN, 13. Pierre ALICK, 14. Kerry IAWAK, 15. Ignace YAMACK, 16. Daniel NATOU, 17. Joses NAWO, 18. Jeffery TES, 19. Kawia LAVA, 20. Kaloran FIRIAM, 25. Roddy LENGA, 27. Richard MANURIKI, 30. Antoine TAIWIA (GK)
Coach: Moise POIDA [VAN]
Vital Statistics: Ba’s best finish in the OFC Champions League was as runners-up to New Zealand’s Waitakere United in 2007.
The Players: If 2015 Golden Boot winner Saula Waqa is on form, he’ll be one to watch. Abbu Zahid and Avinesh Suwamy are both proven performers in this competition.
Coach Quote: “We don’t know much about Nalkutan. We heard that they are quick in counter-attack and so we are going to keep an eye on that. We’ve only heard that much.”
Team List: 1. Misiwani NAIRUBE (GK), 2. Avinesh SUWAMY, 3. Meli CODRO, 4. Manasa NAWAKULA, 5. Amal SINGH, 6. Aakash SHARMA, 7. Samuela NABENIA, 8. Malakai RAKULA, 9. Abbu ZAHID, 10. Amena BOLAITAMANA, 11. Sitiveni CAVUILAGI, 12. Troy WATSON, 13. Jonetani NEWA, 14. Kishan SAMI, 15. Saula WAQA, 16. Malakai TIWA, 17. Narendra RAO, 18. Laisenia NAIOKO, 19. Shivneel SINGH, 20. Josaia RATU (GK), 21. Nathan BROWN, 22. Atunaisa NAUCUKIDI (GK), 23. Sanaila WAQANICAKAU
Coach: Ronil KUMAR [FIJ]