(We are profiling the eight teams who will compete for the OFC Champions League title in Vanuatu next month. Defending champions Auckland City kicked off the series last week and this week we look at Hekari United from PNG)
Port Moresby’s Hekari United are giants of Papua New Guinea football. Founded in 2003 originally under the name of PRK Souths United, the club holds the record for the most titles in the PNG National Soccer League.
They won a staggering eight titles in a row between 2006 and 2014 and are one of just two clubs from outside New Zealand and Australia to have won the OFC Champions League, the other being New Caledonia’s Hienghene Sport. (2019)
Hekari United’s greatest success came in 2010 when they represented OFC at the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi. They had beaten New Zealand side Waitakere United 4-2 on aggregate in the OFC Champions League final after a 3-0 first leg win in Port Moresby and a 2-1 defeat in the second leg in Auckland. Hekari performed valiantly in a 3-0 defeat by hosts Al Wahda at the FIFA Club World Cup.
The Hekari United team has been in transition for the past few years. They had recruited players from the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Brazil during their dominant years but now have a team made up entirely of local players.
How Hekari United qualified for the 2023 OFC Champions League
Hekari United upset the PNG National Champions Lae City 4-1 over two legs in the National Playoff in February. Lae City had represented PNG in last season’s OFC Champions League after a 2-1 win in a one off match. But Hekari had their sights set on revenge and came from a goal down to win the first leg in Lae City 2-1 before completing the job with two late goals in a 2-0 win in the second leg in Port Moresby.
The coach’s approach and hopes for the tournament.
“We will take a professional approach into the tournament. We have not been in the Champions League for the past five years and to get back in is exciting. There are some very strong teams, and we will have to be at our best. We will use the 2010 winning Hekari team to motivate the boys. Before we leave for Vanuatu, we will travel to the Solomon Islands for a couple of friendlies to help prepare us for the tournament.”
Star Player: Ati Kepo: The 26-year-old striker has been a prolific scorer for Hekari United. He’s tall and quick and strong off both feet. While he didn’t find the back of the net in the two National Playoff matches against Lae City, Kepo who has been capped seven times by the PNG national team, was a constant threat.
Hekari United Fixtures
Hekari United v Ifira Blackbird Monday May 15th
Hekari United v Tiga Sport Thursday May 18th
Hekari United v AS Pirae Sunday May 21st