2019 was an historic year for futsal in Oceania with the launch of the inaugural OFC Futsal Champions League.
The four-day tournament, hosted at Auckland’s Barfoot and Thompson Stadium from December 5-8, featured six teams representing New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu all of whom were vying to be crowned as our region’s leading futsal club.
Fittingly, the teams were competing on a brand new, purpose-built portable futsal court that was laid down at the venue to mark the milestone occasion.
On the back of a highly successful and thrilling Futsal Nations Cup in New Caledonia just a month earlier, the staging of a brand new international futsal competition demonstrated the development and growth of the game across the region.
The tournament itself delivered a highly entertaining and keenly contested festival of futsal with a jam-packed programme of 18 matches across four days.
After every team played each of their five opponents once, Solomon Islands Futsal League Champions Kooline FC topped the table to set up a title decider against runners-up AS PTT from New Caledonia.
Local favourites and 2018 New Zealand champions AFF Futsal finished in third place ahead of AS Pirae Futsal from Tahiti, forcing these two sides to settle for the bronze medal match on the final day.
Meanwhile, Vanuatu’s VFF National Futsal champions D’York Street and 2019 Futsal Inter District Cup winners Suva FC from Fiji had only pride to play for in their playoff match after finishing the round robin stage in fifth and sixth, respectively.
Despite there being no prize on offer in the opening game of the final matchday, both D’York Street and Suva gave their all to push the fifth place playoff to a penalty shootout after the game ended in a 3-3 stalemate in regulation time.
Unfortunately for the Vanuatu champions, Julien Leye and Aubert Tales both missed their spot kicks to gift the win to the Fijians.
In the curtain raiser to the final, AFF Futsal proved far too strong for AS Pirea, as the hosts cruised past the Tahitians 7-0 to collect the bronze medal.
However, the best was left to last with Kooline FC and AS PTT producing a 12-goal thriller in the title decider to conclude the historic competition.
Kooline looked dangerous during the early exchanges, particularly from set pieces, but it was from open play when Benjamin Mana and Elis Mana combined for the opening goal.
But a dramatic red card to key Solomon Islands international Alvin Hou midway through the first half stunned Kooline and completely changed the momentum of the game.
Taking advantage of their numerical superiority, AS PTT responded immediately through Hary Hmaloko and from then it was end-to-end action until Robert Laua drove home Elis Mana’s pass.
The New Caledonians levelled the scores once again with a composed finish from Christ Pei who chipped the goalkeeper and the teams went into the break deadlocked at 2-2.
Christ Pei latched onto a long ball and rounded the keeper to steer home and AS PTT went ahead 3-2 to set up a thrilling second half.
With eight minutes on the clock, the Noumea-based outfit stretched their lead to two goals courtesy of Hmaloko who ended a swift counterattack with a fine finish.
Elias Mana found a third goal for Kooline following a corner but moments later AS PTT goalkeeper scored a sensational long-range chip to restore his side’s two goal cushion.
The game entered the final five minutes with Benjamin Mana scoring to ensure a thrilling finale.
It was Elis Mana’s turn next to slot home from a wide angle to even the ledger and from there AS PTT froze.
Benjamin Mana gave the lead to Kooline following a wonderful interplay with Laua before Elis Mana completed his hat-trick to seal the dramatic 7-5 win with a sensational inch-perfect looping shot from in front of his own goalmouth.
Victorious coach Michael Wassin couldn’t hide his delight following the pulsating encounter.
“It was a very exciting, an excellent game and I feel so proud and very happy,” he said.
“We made history and it’s been a great year for Solomon Islands futsal with Kooline winning here and the Kurukuru qualifying for the World Cup.
“I’m very proud of my players, they never gave up.
“Even when our key payer Alvin Hou was sent off they kept fighting and delivering, I trusted them and believed in them when they were two goals behind and time running out, I’m very proud of the boys.
“We made history for our nation our family back home and also for the fans here.”
The dramatic and high-quality final was a fitting climax to the inaugural tournament.
It also showed the progress made by futsal in our region in recent years.
The first ever OFC Futsal Champions League proved once and for all the far reaching potential and bright future of the game across the Pacific.