Qualification for the quarterfinals of the OFC Champions League is within reach of Auckland City FC and Lautoka FC on match day two of Group C on Wednesday at Auckland’s Trusts Stadium but a desperate Madang FC and AS Venus stand in their way.
After wins on the first day of Group C action on Sunday against AS Venus and Madang respectively, a second victory for both Auckland and Lautoka in the reverse fixtures would see both teams through to the last eight of the competition with a game to spare. However, that final match between the New Zealand and Fijian clubs on Saturday would then determine home advantage in the next stage.
Should either, or both, teams fail to win on Wednesday then at least one qualification spot will be up for grabs going into the final day of pool play.
On paper at least the early kick off between Venus and Lautoka looks toughest to call and the most pivotal to the eventual group make-up.
Venus were soundly beaten 7-0 by defending champions Auckland City but coach Sam Garcia said he was always treating that first match as a benchmark while targeting the game against Lautoka.
“Auckland are on a different level to the rest of the Pacific and so there’s no sadness about that result. But Lautoka will be more of an even match for us – I believe we are on a similar level,” Garcia said.
“We’re ready for the challenge. Before arriving in New Zealand we planned how it would go. I was very happy to play Auckland City first because they have won the last seven OFC Champions Leagues and I know it would be a good experience for us.”
Garcia added that in their planning process their hopes of advancing from the group always hinged on this match against the Fijian champions.
“For our team the most important moment was going to be Venus-Lautoka. After that we will know if we go on our way home or we work towards getting another win on Saturday.”
Lautoka currently sit second in Group C on goal difference following their 3-1 win over a short-handed Madang side but despite the difference in outcomes in Lautoka’s and Venus’ opening matches, coach Kamal Swamy was full of respect for the Tahitian representatives.
“We shouldn’t take anything from Venus’ performance – they were playing against Auckland City but they may have a different strategy against us. It will again be a tough match for us,” said Swamy.
“Venus have nothing to lose now and they would like to qualify for the quarterfinals, so they will give everything in this game. It will be tough.”
Swamy suspects his Venus counterpart was keeping some cards up his sleeve during the first match and says some tactical flexibility may be needed, especially once he sees how the Tahitians line up against his side.
“We need to change our game plan in this match looking at Venus and how they play. What they played against Auckland, they won’t play against us so we need to settle down and change our tactics and get into our work.”
Auckland City FC’s Ramon Tribulietx was in a far more comfortable position after the one-sided victory against Venus. While he knows a win against Papua New Guinea’s Madang FC could seal progress to the knockout stages – step one on the way to claiming an eighth straight OFC Champions League title – he maintains the team’s focus is on the individual match and not the longer-term goals.
“We take it game by game,” Tribulietx said.
“We’re happy with that first performance but this will be a little different. The Tahitians were more physical and maybe more organised out of possession – I think the PNG guys will be a little different and try to hurt us with different weapons. We just focus on this game and take it step-by-step.”
Auckland’s opponents Madang have had more to worry about in the build-up to the tournament but the arrival of more players to the skeletal squad of 12 available for the defat to Lautoka gives coach Maurie Wasi a few more options.
Wasi was pleased with not only the application of his side against Lautoka also with their effectiveness in creating chances, although the inability to capitalise on more than one ultimately proved their undoing.
They now face an even sterner test against a team that has not conceded a OFC Champions League goal in over 11 hours. Wasi says his team have no shortage of motivation with their quarterfinal hopes on the line against the defending Oceania champions.
“Most of these players have not played a team of the calibre of Auckland City so they are looking forward to it and they know it’s going to be a very tough challenge,” Wasi said
“We will go out there and play for the people of Madang province, for the boys themselves and their families – because they’ve sacrificed a lot for the boys to come out – we’re just going to go out there and play for the ones that really care about our football.”
AS Venus and Lautoka FC kick off the second day of Group C play at 1pm while Auckland City’s match against Madang gets underway at 4pm.
AS Venus [TAH] vs. Lautoka FC [FIJ]
Auckland, New Zealand
Wednesday 28 February
Kick-off: 13h00 (local)
(10h00 PNG, 12h00 FIJ, 14h00 TAH Tues)
Referee: Joel HOPKEN (VAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Stephen SENIGA (SOL)
Assistant Referee 2: Bertrand BRIAL (NCL)
Fourth Official: Hamilton SIAU (SOL)
Vital Statistics: AS Venus have only faced Fijian opposition once in their two previous campaigns at this level. In the 1999 OFC Club Championship in Nadi, they drew 1-1 with Nadi FC who then went on to finish runners-up to South Melbourne.
The Players: Teonui Tehau has been in prolific form over the past two seasons in Tahiti’s Ligue 1. He netted 45 goals last season and is currently on 31 from 17 games this year. While he didn’t see much of the ball in Venus’ loss to an Auckland side that starved them of possession, Lautoka will need to be mindful of giving him an opening in front of goal.
Coach Quote: “As part of our planning I also believed that Auckland would win the next match and that Madang would have two losses which would mean we could face a Madang team with nothing to play for on Saturday.”
Team List: 1-Tamatiti PATIA (GK), 2-Tauarii TAPUTUARAI, 3-Kevin BARBE, 4-Jean-Claude PARAUE, 5-Marcel TIHONI, 6-Hitinui VERNAUDON, 7-Marama AMAU, 8-Faretua MARAETEFAU, 9-Tefai FAEHAU, 10-Teonui TEHAU (C), 11-Raiamanu TETAUIRA, 12-Mauarii TEHINA, 13-Yann PENNEQUIN-LE-BRAS, 18-Ramanui AMAU, 22-Tamatai TEVAEARAI (GK), 23-Mauri HEITAA, 24-Hauragi HURI, 30-Roonui TEHAU.
Coach: Sam GARCIA (TAH)
Vital Statistics: All but two players in Lautoka’s starting line-up on Sunday had played for his respective national team. The Fijian champions fielded 7 Fijian seniors internationals plus one each from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The other two still boasts international experience with Cory Chettleburgh, having represented New Zealand at both U-17 and U-20 levels while Praneel Naidu was a member of the Fiji U-23 squad that competed at the Rio Olympics.
The Players: Osea Vakatalesau has scored OFC Champions League goals for four different clubs (Lautoka, Hekari, Ba, Amicale) dating back to 2008. His most notable goal-scoring feat remains sharing the global record for most goals in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with 12. Now in his 30s, the towering forward still showed he has the speed and touch to complement his physical presence and linked well with Benji Totori in attack.
Coach Quote: “We watched the Venus game and the boys are very psotove about it. Let’s hope we can play very well against them.
Team List: 1-Senirusi BOKINI (GK), 2-Edward JUSTIN, 4-Shazil ALI, 5-Poasa BAINIVALU, 6-Jone VESIKULA, 7-Dave RADRIGAI, 8-Kavaia RAWAQA, 9-Liesari QALICA, 10-Cory CHETTLEBURGH, 11-Praneel NAIDU, 12-Laitia TUILAU, 14-Samuela DRUDRU, 16-Osea VAKATALESAU, 17-Kolinio SIVOKI, 18-Arami VOLAVOLA, 19-Benjamin TOTORI, 20-Brian KALTAK, 22-Benaminio MATEINAQARA (GK / C).
Coach: Kamal SWAMY (FIJ)
Auckland City FC [NZL] vs. Madang FC [PNG]
Auckland, New Zealand
Wednesday 28 February
Kick-off: 16h00 (local)
(13h00 PNG, 15h00 FIJ, 17h00 TAH Tues)
Referee: George TIME (SOL)
Assistant Referee 1: Bernard MUTUKERA (SOL)
Assistant Referee 2: Hilmon SESE (VAN)
Fourth Official: Mederick LACOUR (NCL)
Auckland City FC
Vital Statistics: Auckland City FC have never lost to Papua New Guinea opposition in the OFC Champions League. In two matches each against Sobou FC, Hekari United and Lae City Dwellers they only dropped points in a 1-1 away draw against Hekari in the 2010-11 edition.
The Players: With tighter restrictions on foreign players, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi has shifted into Auckland defence for this tournament, a position the New Zealand international is not unaccustomed to playing. He saw a lot of ball in the opening win over AS Venus and it allowed him to show off his full passing range and ability to drive into midfield when required.
Coach Quote: “If you don’t control the game with the ball they can become very difficult to play. We need to make sure we compete as well as we did in the first game.”
Team List: 1-Eñaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 2-Liam GRAHAM, 5-Angel BERLANGA (C), 6-Te-Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 7-Cameron HOWIESON, 9-Darren WHITE, 12-Kris BRIGHT, 13-Alfred ROGERS, 14-Cole PEVERLEY, 15-Daniel MORGAN, 17-Reid DRAKE (GK), 19-Micah LEA’ALAFA, 20-Emiliano TADE, 21-Harrison EDGE, 24-Connor TRACEY (GK), 25-Owen PARKER-PRICE, 26-Callum MCCOWATT, 27-Dalton WILKINS.
Coach: Ramon TRIBULIETX (ESP)
Vital Statistics: Three additional players have arrived in camp since Madang played their opening Group C fixture with just 12 players in total.
The Players: Vanya Malagian may have played goalkeeper at lower levels but it was a big ask for the midfielder to step in for his team and play an OFC Champions League match against the Fijian champions with his side’s regular custodians awaiting visas to travel. Malagian performed admirably, making some important saves but he will be relieved to see the reinforcements arrive during the week so he can take his more accustomed role higher up the pitch.
Coach Quote: “In terms of Auckland City, it’s always going to be hard playing against them. They’re a well-established club with good coaches and a good set up so it’s going to be a very tough challenge but it’s one we look forward to.”
Team List: 1-Mikes GEWA (GK), 3-Able Linday REDENUT, 4-Darren POLLY, 5-Langarap SAMOL, 6-Samuel KINI (C), 9-Maskulan PULUNG, 7-Maximillion SEGUM, 8-Michael FOSTER, 10-Emmanuel AIREM, 11-Vanya MALAGIAN, 12-Nigel MALAGIAN, 13-Jonnel KAMBUAL, 14-Neil HANS, 15-Hanson TOPIO, 16-Papalau AWELE, 18-Stahl GUBAG, 21-Charles LEPANI (GK), 23-Solomon MAPAI.
Coach: Mauri WASI (PNG)