There’s no room for a slow start in the OFC Champions League 2020 Qualifying Stage.
Three teams are vying for the two available spots on offer to join the competition’s main draw, which gets underway next month, and each game looms as a must-win encounter.
Samoa’s Lupe Ole Soaga SC will meet Tongan side Veitongo FC in the opening match of the Qualifying Stage at the Ngahue Reserve in Auckland on Saturday afternoon.
Lupe are playing with a backdrop of tragedy following the measles epidemic in Samoa, which should inspire them to perform.
“The team’s looking forward to it; everything’s going well, and the preparation’s been good,” Lupe coach Paul Ualesi said.
“We know all the teams are here to win and we came prepared for that as well.”
Lupe have gathered some New Zealand-based imports, including Takapuna FC utility Matthew Chant and veteran goalkeeper Zane Green.
Youngster Jarvis Filimalae will provide some pace down the right wing, while defender Andrew Setefano will captain the side.
Ualesi welcomed the challenge of opening the qualifiers against Veitongo.
“They’re a really physical team as well and some of their boys are experienced. We know them very well, but we are working hard to match up with our brothers from Tonga.”
Veitongo are coached by Mark Uhatahi who is in his first season at the helm after a lengthy playing career for the club.
They’ve won the Tonga Major League in four of the past five seasons making them regular challengers for a OFC Champions League berth.
“I’m grateful that this is my first time coaching the team,” Uhatahi said. “From what I know, both teams are kind of the same in terms of age and playing ability.”
Uhatahi said the transition to coaching had been a smooth one.
“I feel good about it but it’s just like every other player when you move up in position, you have that feeling. But, with me, I’m very confident with my team and I trust my team and it’s up to them now with all the preparation and they’re here to win.”
After Saturday’s match, Lupe will meet Cook Islands team Tupapa Maraerenga FC at the Ngahue Reserve on Tuesday. Tupapa will then play Veitongo on Friday to complete the competition.
The winner of the Qualifying Stage will join Group D in the OFC Champions League 2020, which includes Auckland City FC (New Zealand), Ba FC (Fiji) and AS Venus (Tahiti).
The runner-up from the qualifiers will enter Group C, featuring AS Magenta (New Caledonia), AS Tiare Tahiti (Tahiti) and the Solomon Warriors (Solomon Islands).
In the competition proper Group A will play their matches in Papua New Guinea between February 16-22 with Group B set to take place in Vanuatu from February 15-21. New Caledonia will host Group C, and Group D will be contested in Tahiti with both groups running between March 1-7.
The top two sides from each group will progress to the quarter-finals, which will be played between April 4-5 with the semifinals to be contested on April 25-26. The final is scheduled for May 16. The full draw, including the Qualifying Stage, can be found here.
Lupe Ole Soaga SC vs Veitongo FC
Saturday 25 January
Auckland, New Zealand KO: 1600
Click on link for the live stream:
Referee: Calvin BERG (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Hayden TUTBURY (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Michael LOVE (NZL)
Fourth Official: Timothy NIU (SOL)
Lupe Ole Soaga SC – 1. Mataio TOETU (GK), 2. Albert BELL, 3. Suivai ATAGA, 4. Ritchievoy UELIGITONE, 5. Tauati TANOAI 6. Andrew SETEFANO, 7. Lawrie LETUTUSA, 9. Vaa TAUALAI, 10. Jarvis FILIMALAE, 11. Matthew CHANT, 12. John TEO, 13. Michael TUMUA LEO, 14. Osa SAVELIO, 16. Soliai LETUTUSA, 17. Isaako SIONE, 18. Lapalapa TONI, 20. Zane GREEN (GK), 21. Bitner TAFILI
Head Coach: Paul UALESI (Samoa)
Veitongo FC – 1. Sinilau TAUFA (GK), 2. Pita HUNI, 3. Opesi TU’IFANGALOKA, 4. Sione UHATAHI, 5. Timote FAKSIIEIKI, 7. Kilifi UELE, 8. Pita Uhatahi, 9. Tupou UHATAHI, 10. Hemaloto POLOVILI, 11. Vai LUTU, 12. Tevita KOLOA, 14. Fine MOALA, 15. Maloni UKAKALA, 16. Sitaleki TUALAU, 17. Asitamani ANAU, 20. Semisi OTUKOLO, 21. Christopher KEFU, 22. David ANAU
Head Coach: Mark UHATAHI (Tonga)
To view the results, match schedule and latest news for the OFC Champions League 2020 Click Here