OFC Men’s Champions League 2018

Justin Gulley is presented the Champions eague trophy by OFC Vice President Rajesh Patel. Wellington captain OFC Champions League 2018, 2nd Leg Final, Lautoka FC v Team Wellington, Churchill Park, Lautoka, Sunday 20th May 2018. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

The 17th edition of the OFC Champions League was held in 2018 with 16 clubs competing for the title again. This time the format was changed so that the top two clubs in each group qualified for the knockout stages, with a quarter-final round introduced to determine progression to a two-legged semi-final stage. Nalkutan FC hosted Group A at Korman Stadium in Port Vila, and were drawn alongside Ba FC, Lae City FC, and Tupapa Maraerenga FC, whilst AS Dragon hosted Group B at the Stade Pater in Pirae, alongside AS Lossi, Erakor Golden Star FC, and the Solomon Warriors.

Seven-time defending champions Auckland City FC hosted Group C at The Trusts Arena in Auckland, and were joined by Madang FC, AS Venus, and Lautoka FC, and finally Marist FC hosted Group D at the Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, and were grouped with Team Wellington, AS Magenta, and Lupe Ole Soaga SC. In front of a home crowd at Korman Stadium in Port Vila, Nalkutan FC secured top spot in Group A with three wins from three. The decisive match in the group was played between Lae City FC and Ba FC on matchday two, where a second half strike from Tutizama Tanitio claimed a 1-0 win for the former and booked their spot in the quarter-finals.

An aerial tussle. OFC Champions League 2018, Group C, AS Venus vs Auckland City FC, The Trusts Arena, Auckland, Sunday 25th February 2018. Photo: David Joseph / www.phototek.nz

AS Dragon opened their campaign in Group B with consecutive victories over AS Lossi and Erakor Golden Star FC on home ground at the Stade Pater in Pirae. They suffered a 1-2 defeat to the Solomon Warriors on the final matchday, but still wrapped up top spot with a superior goal difference, whilst the Solomon Warriors joined them in the quarter-finals after finishing second. Group C was a walk in the park for Auckland City FC at The Trusts Arena in Auckland, sealing qualification to the quarter-finals with a game to play after a 7-0 drubbing of AS Venus and a 5-0 victory over Madang FC.

Lautoka FC did the same after recording victories over the same two sides, sending the group to a top of the table decider on the final matchday. A second half strike from Emilano Tade secured a 1-0 win for Auckland City, continuing their winning run in the competition. Host club Marist FC played out a 1-1 draw with Team Wellington in Group D’s opener in front of a bumper crowd at the Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara. Team Wellington went on to wrap up top spot with big wins over both AS Magenta and Lupe Ole Soaga SC, whilst Marist remained unbeaten to finish second and join them in the quarter-finals.

A good crowd turned out for the match. OFC Champions League 2018, Group D, Marist FC vs AS Magenta, Lawson Tama Stadium, Solomon Islands, Tuesday 27th February 2018. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

Three-time runners-up Team Wellington swatted aside Lae City FC with a big 11-0 victory in the first of the quarter-finals, and Auckland City FC joined them after recording a 2-0 win over the Solomon Warriors. A late winner from Brian Kaltak stole a 2-1 victory for Lautoka FC away at AS Dragon in the third quarter-final, whilst Marist FC made up the final four with a 2-1 win away at Nalkutan FC. First-time semi-finalists Lautoka FC and Marist FC met in the first semi-final and played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Churchill Park, before a second half strike from Praneel Naidu stole a 1-0 victory for Lautoka in the second leg at Lawson Tama Stadium, securing the Fijian champions a place in the final 2-1 on aggregate.

Rivals Team Wellington and Auckland City FC met in the second semi-final, a repeat of three previous tournament finals. The first leg at David Farrington Park finished goalless, but two first half goals for Team Wellington in the second leg at Kiwitea Street carried them to a 2-2 draw and progression to the final on the away goals rule. Having lost three consecutive finals, Team Wellington appeared to have secured their maiden OFC Champions League title with a big 6-0 victory over Lautoka FC in the first leg of the final. Two goals from Jack Henry-Sinclair paved the way, supported by strikes from Andy Bevin, Ross Allen, Mario Barcia, and Taylor Schrijvers.

First-time finalists Lautoka fought hard in the second leg at Churchill Park, but fell to a 3-4 defeat as Team Wellington won the final 10-3 on aggregate and claimed their first continental title. Benjamin Totori scored twice for the hosts, but he was cancelled out by goals from Mario Ilich, Ross Allen, Angus Kilkolly, as well as an own goal by Dave Radrigai. Kilkolly won the golden boot with nine goals, whilst his teammate Roy Kayara received the golden ball. Auckland City received the fair play award, and Enaut Zubikarai was also awarded the golden glove for the second season in a row.

Team Wellington celebrate winning the Champions League 2018. OFC Champions League 2018, 2nd Leg Final, Lautoka FC v Team Wellington, Churchill Park, Lautoka, Sunday 20th May 2018. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

Team Wellington qualified for their maiden FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE as continental champions, but despite taking a three-goal lead with strikes from Andy Bevin, Mario Barcia, and Aaron Clapham, they conceded three in the second half and lost on penalties against host club Al-Ain in the first round.