It may be over three years since Hienghène Sport were crowned OFC Champions League winners, but SC Ne Drehu say their National Playoff opponents still deserve full respect as the competition’s defending champions.
The two sides will face each other on June 4 and June 6, with the winner from the two legs earning the right to represent New Caledonia at the eight-team finals tournament set for later this year, which will decide who qualifies through Oceania to the 2022 edition of the FIFA Club World Cup.
The last time the OFC Champions League was held in 2019 (it was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic) Hienghène emerged 1-0 winners in an all-New Caledonian final against AS Magenta.
But come kick off at Stade Yoshida this Saturday they’ll likely be the underdogs in the eyes of many, given Ne Drehu beat them 2-0 when they met earlier this year in the local Super Ligue competition.
Ne Drehu coach Cédric Wejieme said while that result will give his side some level of confidence, it’s also important to remember Hienghène’s history in the Champions League.
“Yes we beat them on the first day of the championship here in New Caledonia and we are confident for the future matches, but we are aware that Hienghène has more experience than us in this kind of match,” Wejieme said.
“I learned things about them when we beat them this year, but Hienghène is a formidable team.
“They’re a very big team with quality players, they know each other very well and have won many titles together.”
The two sides also have recent history in a must-win match, having met in the final of the 2020 Coupe de Calédonie which Hienghène won 3-1.
At the time of writing Ne Drehu have suffered just one loss in this year’s Super Ligue, which came against current leaders Tiga Sport.
“As a squad we have a good history together. The players have been playing together for a long time and know each other well,” Wejieme said.
“My team is in good shape. We have one player who is slowly coming back from injury, but the rest of the team is fine.”