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National pride on the line

All eyes will be on Stade Numa Daly this Saturday 11 May when the 2019 OFC Champions League final rolls into town to mark history in the making with one of either two New Caledonian clubs set to take the crown for the first time.

Whether it’s AS Magenta or their domestic rival Hienghéne Sport lifting the coveted trophy, the final will go down in the history-books as the first time two clubs, outside New Zealand, appear in the final of Oceania’s premier international club competition.

Whoever is on the winning side, there are exciting times ahead for the Federation Calédonie de Football according to President Steeve Laigle.

“We’re proud that the work these two clubs have done over the past few years is paying off, and we’re at the point today of having New Caledonian clubs as the best in Oceania,” Laigle said excitedly.

With kick-off locked in for 5pm local time, viewers abroad can join the live coverage on MyCujoo in partnership with Caledonia, New Caledonia’s national broadcaster. Local supporters are expected to pour into Noumea from as far as the Province Nord, where Hienghéne Sport is based.

“New Caledonia is a small country and it’s a first for us, we’re very excited at home to be organising this final, and we’ll try and make sure it’s a beautiful celebration of football,” the Kone-based President added.

Saturday’s match will be the first time these two clubs go head-to-head in this competition since Hienghéne Sport made their debut in 2017. It’s an impressive feat for the club to be featuring in the final on just their second Champions League appearance, however they won’t be expecting any favours from their compatriots from the south.

Magenta have been chasing regional glory for a long time and following their appearance in the final against Sydney FC in the 2004-05 season they’ve only ever made it as far as the semi-finals. Suffice to say, they’ll be hungry to get their hands on the silverware which has eluded them for so long.

Closer to home, the clubs from either end of the “Grande Terre” have been long-time rivals in both the Super Ligue, the national championship, and the Coupe de Calédonie, the domestic cup competition.

Based on previous results alone, Magenta might be considered favourites. However as of today, despite only being five rounds into the season, it’s Hienghéne at the top of the standings.

As the man in charge of all New Caledonian football, Laigle said he wouldn’t like to make a call on the result of Saturday’s match.

“I’m the president of the both clubs, so I can’t have a favourite. If we talk in terms of statistics Magenta has a psychological advantage because these two clubs meet regularly in the Coupe de Calédonie and Magenta has the advantage here. But if we look at the last match of the championship, Hienghéne has an advantage on the field,” Laigle said.

What does this momentous occasion mean for football in New Caledonia?

According to Laigle, it’s immense both in terms of profile and development.

“Having two teams from New Caledonia in the final shows that anything is possible,” he stated.

“It also means in New Caledonia, in our championship, this will certainly help lift the level. Every team, every weekend of the competition, will be trying to beat the champion and runner-up of Oceania.

“It will certainly help lift the level of our championship.”

The winner of the OFC Champions League final on Saturday between Magenta and Hienghéne Sport will nab not only the regional title, but Oceania’s spot in the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup.

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