The 2019 OFC Champions League is preparing to crown a new champion as AS Magenta and Hienghéene Sport face-off in what will become one of the most memorable matches in New Caledonian and Oceania football history.
The final, being played at Stade Numa Daly in Noumea at 5pm tonight, is the first time in OFC Champions League history that a club from New Zealand or Australia hasn’t featured. Adding to the historic occasion is the knowledge that the trophy will be settling either in New Caledonia’s northern or southern province.
The journey to the final has been far from simple for either sides.
Hienghéne were fortunate to host their group, finishing top of the group and earning the right to host Ba FC in the quarter finals. Despite one of their poorer performance, Felix Tagawa’s side were able to prevail setting up a semi-final against defending champions Team Wellington. The result of that match, also at Numa Daly, saw the men from the north topple their opponents 2-0, paving their way to an historic final.
For Magenta it was a little tougher as they were forced to return to Honiara, Solomon Islands for the group stage. The club didn’t have the fondest memories of Lawson Tama after being eliminated from the competition 12 months earlier. However, they came much better prepared with a 2-1 loss to Auckland City restricting them to second in the group.
The quarter final meant another trip was on the cards for Magenta, this time to group winners Central Sports home-base of Papeete. Once again, the visitors were prepared and put in an impressive performance which saw them seal a 8-0 victory and a home semi-final.
For the second time in the competition Magenta were facing the nine-time champions Auckland City FC but this time on home soil and with the fire of having seen their domestic rivals already through to the final, Magenta were able to secure an impressive 2-1 victory to set up their second OFC Champions League final appearance, and a 100 per cent Caledonian affair.
In a game that could be regarded as the battle of “the cream of Caledonian football” both coaches realise the stakes are higher than ever before and it will all come down to the quality of their game plan on the day.
Former French international Alain Moizan is responsible for Magenta holding an advantage over their long-time rivals in domestic competitions, and admits that it’s been his belief for the past seven years that they could one day taste regional glory.
“The rule that has probably helped us the most is that which limits the number of players who can come in from outside, that’s really put everyone back on a similar level and so it’s not a surprise to me that in the final Hienghéne and Magenta will be there,” said Moizan, the man who also orchestrated Les Cagous victory over the All Whites during the Nations Cup in 2012.
Alongside Magenta, Hienghéne has been equally dominant in New Caledonian football in recent years.
“It’s a team which over the past two to three years has been in direct competition with us whether for the league title or for the cup. At a Confederation level they’ve gotten to the top very quickly, and that shows the work that’s been done.”
While match preparations for the final may be like any other, the sole difference would boil down to the level of concentration.
“I’m trying to explain to the players the level with which we need to prepare, maybe a bit differently, a bit more seriously.”
“That said, since the beginning of this competition I’ve been very satisfied by the conduct of the players. To get to where we are today is thanks to them having done what needed to be done to be ready for each and every match so far,” Moizan added.
“Overall it’s up to us to be ready at a high level, be prepared to pose a problem for them and in the end the team that’s better concentrated on the match, better prepared mentally, and the team with the greatest desire to win this competition, will win the match,” Moizan concluded.
For Felix Tagawa and the men from the north, who are currently on top of the Super Ligue table, Saturday’s game will be the first encounter with their domestic rivals in this competition since Hienghéne made their debut in 2017.
Tagawa knows the training, the long hours and commitment from all of the players eventually comes down to the 90 minutes they’ll spend on the pitch and as a coach he can prepare them as best he can, but eventually it will come down to them.
“Magenta will be as motivated as we are so it’s up to us to take control of our motivation, to be present and not put pressure on ourselves.”
“Yes, we know them, but the team has changed this year and now they have some individuals in addition to the team’s qualities and it’s up to us to be ready,” Tagawa said
“We’ve discussed our approach, it needs to work, the team has to have the same attitude to work together and that’s what we try and work on behind the scenes. The secret is to know the competition, even if the level here isn’t professional, I know in my head that in order to obtain a professional level the amateurism needs to go.”
Tagawa, despite having lofty dreams of what his charges can achieve, is also a realist.
“It’s never a sure thing that you’ll progress in this competition, but you can be certain with your players – in terms of their performance and behaviour.
“It’s a completely different level, we have to be prepared, not be negligent, look at the matches they’ve played and be ready. The adrenaline will speak for itself, I think.
“I won’t promise anything, but we’ll do our best.”
If the semi-final attracted one of the biggest crowds Numa Daly has seen in a long time, the final is expected to be even bigger.
“The sentiments of our supporters for this match have come naturally. They’ve been present from the beginning and now I think people know, as well as us, the intensity of this Champions League and behind that, we all want to win of course,” Tagawa concluded.
AS Magenta vs Hienghéne Sport
Saturday 11 May 2019
Stade Numa Daly
Noumea, New Caledonia
Referee: Matthew CONGER [NZL]
Assistant Referee 1: Tevita MAKASINI [TGA]
Assistant Referee 2: Mark RULE [NZL]
Fourth Official: Campbell-Kirk WAGH [NZL]
The Players: The combination between Nathanael Hmaen and Richard Sele upfront was on display in the semi-final and they’re expected to once again be a cause for concern come the final. Kevin Nemia is currently the team’s top scorer with six goals.
Vital Statistic: Scored 24 goals, conceded 4. 11 yellow cards, 1 red card; total bookings 12 in 5 matches.
Coach Quote: “No-one gets to the Champions League final by accident so if they’re here it’s because they’ve done the work. We know them well, they know us well too, I hope the final will be a good one.”
AS Magenta: 1. Steeve IXOEE (GK), 2. Jean Christ WAJOKA, 3. Jean Brice WADRIAKO, 4. Gaeton GOPE-IWATE, 5. Mickael TIAOU, 7. Kevin MAITRAN, 8. Nathanael HMAEN, 9. Emile OUNEI, 10. Richard SELE, 11. Kevin NEMIA, 12. Shene WELEPANE, 13. Jean-Marie HMALOKO, 14. Jean Claude JEWINE, 15. Didier SIMANE, 16. Nicodem HMAEN, 17. Yorick HNAUTRA, 18. Leon WAHNAWE, 21. Wilsen POAMENO
Coach: Alain MOIZAN (FRA)
The Players: Watch out for Bertrand Kai latching on to deliveries deep in the opposition half to draw in the defence. The veteran striker was pitch perfect with his two assists in the semi-final win. Rocky Nyikeine’s handiwork between the posts will almost certainly have an impact on the result of the final.
Vital Statistics: Scored 11 goals, Conceded 2. Yellow cards 18, Red cards 0; total bookings: 18 in 5 matches.
COACH Quote: “There’s a lot of hard work involved and the secret is to know the competition and have confidence in the people you work with. Hard work, perseverance, respect for the opponent and not trying to be bigger than the objective. There’s no room for excuses, we have to be ready.”
Hienghene Sport: 1. Rocky NYIKEINE (GK), 2. Joris GORENDIAWE, 3. William YENTAO 4. Bruno HYANEM, 5. Jordan DINET, 7. Anthony KAI, 8. Geordy GONY, 9. Jefferson DAHITE, 10. Miguel KAYARA, 11. Bertrand KAI, 12. Antoine ROINE, 13. Roy KAYARA, 19. Jacques NYIKEINE, 20. Cedrick SANSOT, 23. Nelson KAI, 26. Erwan AUSU, 28. Franck SINEM, 30. Yvanoe BAMY
Coach: Felix TAGAWA (NCL)