With the OFC Champions League 2023 kicking off this week in Vanuatu, we take a deeper look into our hosts and their footballing history. (Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek)
The picturesque archipelago of Vanuatu plays host to the OFC Champions League 2023 (#OCL2023), where eight of the best teams in the region will compete to be crowned champions this month.
With a population of over 300,000, Vanuatu has a rich footballing history, dating as far back to the country’s participation – then as New Hebrides – in the 1963 South Pacific Games. Ten years later, they secured a fourth-place finish at the OFC Nations Cup, a feat they have matched three times since, most recently in 2008.
The game has continued to grow on the international stage over the last decade, with the women’s national team making their debut in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup in 2014 and Vanuatu being represented at the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2017 in South Korea. Vanuatu is also home to Oceania Football Confederation President, Lambert Matlock.
Domestically, top-level football in the country is split between two leagues, governed separately: the VFF Champions League and Digicel Premier League. The two respective league winners face one another in an OFC Champions League play-off round – won this year by Ifira Black Bird FC.
The centralised format of the OFC Champions League 2023 means that all matches will be played across two locations, VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila and Luganville Soccer Stadium in Luganville.
Port Vila is Vanuatu’s capital and largest city, located on the island of Éfaté and home to the nation’s Parliament building. As well as all Group B matches, the 6,000 capacity VFF Freshwater Stadium will also play host to both semi-finals and the final of the OFC Champions League 2023.
With a population of just over 18,000, Luganville is Vanuatu’s second most populous city and is located on the island of Espiritu Santo, north-west of Éfaté. The Luganville Soccer Stadium will host all Group A fixtures and boasts a capacity of 6,750.
Vanuatu sides have come close to Champions League glory on three occasions, with Tafea Football Club as the country’s first finalist in 2001, under the previous OFC Club Championship format, narrowly missing out to Wollongong Wolves FC. During the current OFC Champions League era, Amicale FC have twice been finalists, in 2011 and 2014, on both occasions losing to Auckland City FC.
The 2023 iteration promises to be another exciting chapter in not just the history of OFC Champions League competition but also that of our hosts who are passionate about football.