Oceania’s premier club football competition the OFC Champions League will resume on Sunday with the opening matchday in Group C at Noumea’s Stade Numa Daly.
S-League champions Solomon Warriors and tournament debutants AS Tiare Tahiti will kick off the day’s proceeding before last year’s runners-up AS Magenta take centre stage in front of their home supporters to face Cook Islands qualifiers Tupapa Maraerenga FC.
Three of the four competing teams will know exactly what they are up against as they were drawn together at the same stage during last year’s competition.
Meanwhile AS Tiare Tahiti will be hoping to deliver plenty of unexpected surprises on their regional debut.
Founded in 1968, the Moorea-based club was only invited to participate in Tahiti’s premier senior competition called Ligue 1 Vini during the 2018-2019 season.
Despite facing tough competition from some of the country’s top clubs, the newcomers held their nerves till the end to claim the runners-up place behind AS Venus and secure their spot in the OFC Champions League for the first time.
Apart from two 19-year old recruits from Benin, midfielder Harold Avodagbe and striker Bio Odo Chabi, the team is made up of homegrown talent, mostly from the club’s base in the island of Moorea.
In his sixth season as coach of AS Tiare, Vatea Terai is confident the close-knit family environment of his side will be an advantage during their Champions League campaign.
“We have a great team spirit and we are here to play. Our objective is to qualify for the next stage and we believe we can achieve our goal,” he said.
“We know it will be difficult but we are coming into the tournament with good form, we are currently leading the league back home in Tahiti,” continued Terai.
“The first match against the Solomon Islands will be very important and tough. We will need to be at our best and we will give everything we have to win this game,” added the AS Tiare coach.
Meanwhile, following last year’s disappointment of missing out on qualification after finishing in third place in their Group in front of their own fans, the Solomon Warriors will not need any extra motivation going into their opening match.
With the likes of some seasoned campaigners including Dennis Ifunaoa, Jerry Donga, Tony Kaltack, Gibson Daudau, Molea Tigi, John Alick and Molis Gagame, captain Haddis Aangari will be well assisted across the park.
Making his OFC Champions League debut as a head coach, Selson Molea believes the Warriors are well prepared and more than capable of advancing from the group.
“This is a good group for us, and the most important thing is to start well and win our first game against Tiare,” he said.
“Very happy with the mix of the team as well as our preparations, we are ready to go. Our first goal is to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League. We will reassess after the opening match and hopefully, if we do well, we can set a target of topping the group,” explained the Solomon Warriors coach.
Apart from the weight of hometown expectations, AS Magenta will also feel some pressure as the only New Caledonian team remaining in the competition, following the shock Group A exit of reigning champions Hienghene Sport.
With last year’s narrow defeat in the all-New Caledonian title decider at Stade Numa Daly still fresh in the memory, the Noumea-based club will be keen to get off to a dominant start in their campaign opener against the Cook Islands qualifiers Tupapa Maraerenga FC.
These two teams have faced each other during the group stages in Honiara last year, with Magenta cruising to a 10-1 victory.
With the new domestic season yet to kick off, Magenta had limited preparations going into their 2020 Champions League season.
The hosts should still have enough class to safely negotiate their first challenge against the Cook Islanders, but coach Alain Moizan is not taking anything for granted.
“The most difficult thing is to win. Every year we start again from zero, last year was one thing, this year is something else,” he said.
“The match against Tupapa is the first match and they’ll still be in good physical shape. Maybe three days later in their second match, and again in their third mathc they won’t necessary have the rhythm, but first up we’ll need to concentrate and take the match very seriously,” the Magenta coach explained.
The Cook Islanders are fully aware of their challenge ahead and they are the first to admit that they enter the competition as huge underdogs.
To make matters worse for the Rarotonga-based club, they have arrived in Noumea with a small squad of only 14 players.
Despite the enormity of the task facing them, coach Dave Milanovic insists his players are here to play and will give their best.
“The boys are excited and already looking forward to the matches against Magenta and the Solomon Warriors, because they want to try and improve on their performances against them from last year,” he said.
“The last tournament really showed us where our level is, but we have been working hard and we want to improve enjoy the experience and bring something to this tournament. In the first match against Magenta we will be aiming to keep to scores down to make sure it’s not a repeat of last years,” added Milanovic.
Solomon Warriors vs AS Tiare Tahiti
Sunday, 01 March
Stade Numa Daly, NCL, KO: 16:00
Click on link for the live stream:
Referee: Nick WALDRON (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Mark RULE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Gareth SHEEHAN (NZL)
Fourth Official: Cory MILLS (NZL)
Solomon Warriors 2. Haddis AENGARI, 3. Matson FENI, 4. Aengari GAGAME, 5. Dennis IFUNAOA, 6. Molea TIGI, 8. John ALICK, 9. Jerry DONGA, 11. Tony KALTACK, 13. Rolland MAMANIKA, 15. Molis Junior GAGAME, 16. Emmanuel POILA, 17. Gibson DAUDAU, 18. Lency NORMAN, 19. Molis GAGAME, 22. Bata FURAI, 26. Loea MANI, 28. Timothy MAEARASIA (GK), 29. Sammy BIRISI (GK)
Head Coach – Selson MOLEA (Solomon Islands)
AS Tiare Tahiti – 2. Jason JONES, 3. Karl FIRIAPU, 5. Nick TAUOTAHA, 8. Harold AVODAGBE, 9. Tevaihau TEHURITAUA 10. Manarii PORLIER, 11. Toahiti GERMAIN, 12. Raihani SWAPP, 13. Urarii HANERE, 14. Rico HARING, 15. Tohivea HARING, 16. Rick MOU, 17. Marii TAURUA, 23. Hiria GUILLOUX, 24. Bio ODO CHABI, 25. Heiarii MAPERI, 28. Vaiarii HALLIGAN (GK), 30. Michel MANEA (GK)
Head Coach – Vatea TERAI (Tahiti)
Tupapa Mareerenga vs AS Magenta
Sunday, 01 March
Stade Numa Daly, NCL, KO: 19:00
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Referee: Sione LELENGA (TGA)
Assistant Referee 1: Tevita MAKASINI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: Hilmon SESE (VAN)
Fourth Official: Matthew CONGER (NZL)
Tupapa Maraerenga – 1. Tahiri ELIKANA (GK), 2. Sergio SENDARA, 3. Emiel BURROW, 4. Graham VIKING, 5. Jarves APERAU, 6. Anthony SAMUELA, 7. Orin RUAINE-PRATTLEY, 8. Geosah GEORGE, 9. Andre ESTAY, 10. Grover HARMON, 11. Peni KITIONA, 12. Gichin FUHINIU, 15. Ishaq NAZEEM, 20. Manaariki PIERRE (GK)
Head Coach – Dave MILANOVIC (New Zealand)
AS Magenta – 1. Steeve IXOEE (GK), 2. Jean Christ WAJOKA, 3. Jean Brice WADRIAKO, 4. Gaeton GOPE-IWATE, 5. Mickael TIAOU, 6. Fonzy RANCHAIN, 7. Kevin MAITRAN, 8. Nathanael HMAEN, 9. Jeremy JENO, 11. Kevin NEMIA, 12. Shene WELEPANE, 13. Jean-Marie HMALOKO, 14. Damien WANAPOPO, 15. Didier SIMANE, 16. Nicodem HMAEN, 18. Renaldo NONMEU, 19. Maxime PELLUCHON, 21. Wilsen POAMENO
Head Coach – Alain MOIZAN (France)
To view the results, match schedule and latest news for the OFC Champions League 2020: Click Here