Located in the capital of New Caledonia’s northern province, Kone’s Stade Yoshida will host some of Oceania’s top footballing clubs when Group A action kicks off with the opening match day at the 2019 OFC Champions League on Sunday.
All four teams will be vying for one of two places on offer in the knock-out stages of the tournament with 2017 New Caledonia Super League champions Hienghene Sport carrying the weight of expectations reserved to the hosts.
Following a successful domestic season, Papua New Guinea Soccer League champions Lae City Dwellers FC will be aiming for back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in Oceania’s premier club football competition, while Tahiti League 1 runners up AS Tefana will be hoping to repeat their 2012 heroics when they narrowly missed out on the title following a keenly contested two-legged 3-1 aggregate defeat to regional giants Auckland City FC.
Malampa Revivors will fly Vanuatu’s flag in Group A, and the VFF National Super League grand final runners-up will be determined to improve on their performance from two years ago when they finished bottom of their group with three losses from as many matches during the same stage of the competition.
Led by Papua New Guinea internationals and Champions League stalwarts Raymond Gunemba and Nigel Dabinyaba, Lae City will have plenty of firepower in front of goal when they face AS Tefana in their group opener.
That’s by no means all what Peter Gunemba’s troops will have to offer according to the coach who was quick to point out his side’s healthy mix of youth and experience.
Despite brimming with confidence he was also adamant the Papua New Guinean champions will not underestimate their Tahitian opponents.
“I don’t know how will they play, I haven’t seen them play but they are the champions of their country and we don’t want to take anything lightly,” said the Lae City coach.
Gunemba admitted his side is somewhat unsure of what to expect in their first outing of the tournament.
“We want to get up to the top and they will want to come with their goals to get to the top as well.
“The result will be decided on the field and we will need to try our best, but for me now it’s like a guessing game,” he added.
Determined to make an impression after missing out on last year’s tournament, AS Tefana could well be a force to reckon with.
Well aware of the club’s rich Champions League credentials coach Franck Mathieu insists the Tahitians are primed for a top two finish.
“The goal is simple, we are here to qualify.
“We have been working since the beginning of the season to prepare for the Group Stage and now we are going to see if the boys are ready to fight and go further in this competition,” he said.
Knowing the significance of the opening match, Tefana have put extra effort into researching their opening day foes.
“The first game is the most important, it can set us up for the rest of the competition,” Mathieu said.
“We have got some videos and we can tell they are an athletic team, they work hard on the field but they also have some weaknesses and that’s what we are working on with the boys, to exploit those weaknesses,” the Tefana coach explained.
Well balanced at the back marshalled by goalkeeper Moana Pito, mobile at the centre of the park with the likes of Alvin Tehau and lethal in the final third with the help of prolific striker Benoit Mathon the Tahitians are well equipped across the board, however they will be still sorely missing influential club legend Donovan Bourebare, who suffered a season ending injury just three weeks before the start of the tournament.
“The group is going well, and we all knows why we are here and the players will be giving their best to compensate for Donovan’s absence.
“We miss him on and off the field it would will be a nice gift for him if the team could qualify,” Mathieu added.
Committed to make amends for their disappointing 2017 campaign, Vanuatu’s Malampa Revivors are also stressing the importance of a good start to tournament ahead of their opening match against New Caledonia’s Hienghene Sport.
However, coach Kaison Maki is under no illusion about their task ahead against the local favourites.
“Our first match on Sunday will be against the hosts and we respect them and will give them a good run.
“Our team has been in training for a month, although it’s not long, I think it’s enough time for us to combine our players,” explained Maki.
Showing their intentions, the VFF National Super League grand final runners-up have recruited smartly bringing in two Japanese imports, Kohei Matsumoto and Yuki Ohtsukae to complement their local talent.
“For us this is a challenging group, because most of our players are from the Island.
“But we have two Japanese players coming in to support our team and that’s certainly a blessing for us,” Maki said.
Despite based 230 kilometres away from Kone at the picturesque Hienghene Bay famous for its eroded limestone islets, the New Caledonia champions can count on plenty of home support when they take the field against Malampa at Stade Yoshida.
With many Hienghene Sport players living in Noumea and Kone they don’t often have a chance to train together during the week, which makes the club’s domestic success all the more remarkable.
A special bond between the players that helped them to overcome the tyranny of distance on their quest for domestic dominance could also drive the hosts to regional success.
Coach Felix Tagawa says his team is fully focussed on the job ahead starting with their opener against Malampa.
“We saw them in build-up match against Magenta, but the first match of a tournament will be different.
“This will be a special occasion, a match with high stakes,” he added.
“They managed to secure some good recruits who move the ball around a lot and give them extra options.
“Their two Japanese imports give them a real lift so we will need to be ready and focussed on the opening match on Sunday,” Tagawa explained.
OFC Champions League 2019 – Group A
Lae City Dwellers FC [LAE] vs. AS Tefana [TEF]
Kone, New Caledonia Sunday 10 Feb
Kick-off: 14:00 local (16:00 NZ)
Referee: George TIME (SOL)
Assistant Referee 1: Bernard MUTUKERA (SOL)
Assistant Referee 2: Jeffery SOLODIA (SOL)
Fourth Official: Matthew CONGER (NZL)
Lae City Dwellers FC
Team List: 1. Matheson NASA (GK), 2. Mosie MILUBWA, 3. Valentine NELSON, 4. Goropaul ALBERT, 5. Goropaul ALBERT, 6. Troy GUNEMBA, 7. Raymond GUNEMBA, 8. Jacob SABUA, 9. Nigel DABINYABA, 10. Obert BIKA, 11. Mathew DAVID, 12. Peter DABINYABA JR, 13. Clement WILLIS, 14. Emmanuel SIMONE, 15. Billson BULLO, 16. Ken KEPE, 17. Michael FOSTER, 18. Emmanuel Airem, 19. Emmanuel SIMONGI, 20.
Ronald WARISAN, 21. Joshua TALAU, 22. Ernest GWAITEP, 30. Dennis GANNI (GK)
Coach: Peter GUNEMBA (Papua New Guinea)
Team List: 1. Xavier SAMIN (GK), 2. Farearii TUTEINA, 3. Taumihau TIATIA, 4. Raffi KRISSIAN, 5. Viritua TIAIHO, 6. Tunoa TEVAEARAI, 7. Toriki GUYOT, 8. Alexandre JACQ, 9. Benoit MATHON, 10. Tauatua LUCAS, 13. Honoura MARAETEFAU, 14. Tehauarii HOLOZET, 15Jean Claude CHANG KOEI CHANG, 18. Mhimana LEMAIRE, 20. Alvin TEHAU, 22. Teddy O’CONNOR, 23. Moana PITO (GK), 24. Jean Yves PARAUE, 25. Tangihia HAUATA, 26. Teviarai JORDAN, 27. Teuruarii FANIU, 28. Temarii TINORUA, 30. Thibault PITO.
Coach: Franck MATHIEU (Tahiti)
For Live Stream click below
Malampa Revivors FC [MAL] vs. Hienghene Sport [HIE]
Kone, New Caledonia Sunday 10 Feb
Kick-off: 17:00 local (19:00 NZ)
Referee: Campbell Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: John PAREANGA (COK)
Assistant Referee 2: Adriu NAISUROKI (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Salesh CHAND (FIJ)
Malampa Revivors FC
Team List: 1. Julian MALNAIM (GK), 2. Jacoqes PAKOA, 3. Joseph IARUEL, 4. Gordshem DONA, 5. George VUTI, 6. Bob JEFFRY, 7. Claude ARU, 8. Kohei MATSUMOTO, 9. Yuki OHTSUKAE, 10. Ismael EDWAR, 11. Andre BATICK, 12. Lency PHILIP, 13. Selwyn VATU, 14. Bethuel OLLIE, 15. Dondy KILETEIR, 16. Tasso JEFFREY, 17. Edwin BAI, 18. Jordy TASIP, 19. Timothy BOULET, 20. Dick CHARLEY, 21. Elkington MOLIVAKARUA, 22. Mahit OLLIE, 23. Kaloran FIRIAM (GK)
Coach: Kaison MAKI (Vanuatu)
Team List: 1. Rocky NYIKEINE (GK), 2. Joris GORENDIAWE, 3. William YENTAO, 4. Bruno HYANEM, 5. Jordan DINET, 7. Anthony KAI, 8. Geordy GONY, 9. Brice DAHITE 10. Miguel KAYARA, 11. Bertrand KAI, 12. Antoine ROINE, 13. Roy KAYARA, 14. Gianny KAYARA, 17. Erwan AUSU, 18. Kevin TEIN, 19. Jacques NYIKEINE (GK), 20. Cedrick SANSOT, 21. Joyce POINDJAO, 23. Nelson KAI, 28. Franck SINEM, 29. Alexandre GUACAR, 30. Yvanoe BAMY, 31. Christopher YEIWENE (GK)
Coach: Felix TAGAWA (New Caledonia)
For Live Stream click below