Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

With the OFC Men’s Champions League 2024 kicking off in Tahiti next month, we’re taking a look at each of the eight sides competing in Tahiti in May. First up are the defending champions, Auckland City FC of New Zealand.

No team has dominated the OFC Men’s Champions League quite like Auckland City FC. The New Zealanders head to Papeete in search of a record-extending 12th title, having been the dominant club side in Oceania Football for the best part of two decades.

Last year, the club – which was founded in 2004 – were seconds away from elimination in the semi-finals in Port Vila, when a goalkeeping error handed Albert Riera’s side a lifeline as they sneaked past host nation team Ifira Blackbird FC on penalties, before needing extra time to beat Fiji’s Suva FC in the final.

As if he needed telling, last years’ close call showed the experienced coach just how quickly the gap is closing between his side and the chasing pack throughout Oceania.

“We prepare ourselves to win. We were in Vanuatu not long ago and we know the obstacles and setbacks that you have to face, that’s going to happen again. Many tough situations, good moments and hopefully we can have another good competition. Of course there is a new FIFA tournament, the Intercontinental Cup at the end of the year for the winner of the Champions League,” Riera said.

Auckland City captain Cam Howieson lifts the OFC Men’s Champions League in 2023 following a dramatic final against Fiji’s Suva FC. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

Auckland City have forged a tremendous rivalry with Wellington Olympic AFC on the New Zealand domestic scene, and lost the National League Grand Final to the men from the capital last season.

The two sides fought out an intense National Playoff over two legs in March, with Auckland City winning 1-0 at home before recovering from 3-1 down to draw the second leg 3-3 at Martin Luckie Park in Wellington to qualify for the OFC Men’s Champions League, 4-3 on aggregate.

Auckland City FC are in Group A and will face Fijian champions Rewa FC, Papua New Guinea champions Hekari United, and the Solomon Warriors from Solomon Islands, with the top two sides in each group advancing to the semi-finals.

“I know these teams well and we all know what they bring to the party as players in a different context, different weather, different characteristics, qualities that we don’t usually encounter in New Zealand and that changed a little bit our preparation.

“Sometimes, we focus a lot on fast counters against very fast players or 1v1 defending, that brings something different during the preparation when we’re in the islands. So those teams, they’re very dangerous, very good especially in the islands,” Riera remarked.

Players to Watch

Youngsters, Nathan Lobo (defender) and Liam Gillion (forward) are both New Zealand U-23 internationals and helped the national team qualify for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. Both have enjoyed strong starts to Auckland City’s domestic campaign this year and will be looking to continue that form by making an impact in Tahiti.