Excitement is building in Port Vila ahead of Saturday’s opening match day in Group C of the OFC Champions League 2019 tournament hosted by Vanuatu National Super League grand final champions Erakor Golden Star at Korman Stadium.
Looking for their maiden qualification to the knock-out stages of Oceania’s premier club football competition the hosts will be hoping to kick off their 2019 campaign in a positive fashion against Samoa National Champions and Qualifying tournament runners -up Kiwi FC in a match that will follow the group opener between current title holders Team Wellington and Fiji Premier League runners-up Ba FC.
On the back of their all-conquering exploits last year, the men from the New Zealand capital will carry the weight of expectations on their shoulders when they face Fiji’s most successful club at both domestic and regional level.
With 16 rounds into their ASB Premiership season, Team Wellington have arrived in Port Vila well prepared to begin their title defence, while Ba FC also have valuable match experience behind them following two wins and a draw from their three matches so far in the 2019 Fiji National League competition.
Carrying a rich and proud football tradition dating back to 1935, Ba FC will have the extra motivation of reversing the humiliating 8-0 defeat the Men in Black suffered in the hands of the New Zealanders when these two teams last met during the Group Stage of this tournament in 2017.
Despite still remembering that encounter from two years ago, Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira says his team can’t take anything for granted against the Fijians.
“Obviously we’ve played Ba a couple of seasons ago in New Caledonia so we have a little bit of experience against them and we have some local inside information and I can see the make up of their team is similar.
“However, when facing the first game like in any tournament it’s a little bit unknown so the focus will be purely on ourselves.
“We know they have some quality players who can change a game and a few international players with experience with the national team and we will be making sure that we enter this games with the correct mindset, fully focused and prepared for a very difficult challenge,” insisted the Team Wellington coach.
His Fijian counterpart Ronil Kumar is under no illusion about the magnitude of the task in front of his troops against the champions, but he remains optimistic about his side’sprospects.
“Our aim is to qualify for the quarter-finals.
“We are happy with the preparations and the boys are eager to play our first match against the defending champions.
“It doesn’t get tougher than that but we know what’s ahead, we are ready to play and I’m confident my team will give them a tough game, we have our own game plan against them and we will stick to that,” said Kumar.
With the mix of experienced players like national representative and 2014-15 OFC Champions League Golden Boot winner Saula Waqa and a number of young emerging talent including 18-year old Fiji international Kishan Sami, the Ba FC coach feels his team has the right balance.
“We have a good mix of youth and experience and our four or five youngsters have settled and gelled well with our senior players, so hopefully they can step up and help to deliver a positive result for us in our first match,” Kumar added.
Local expectations will be at fever pitch when hosts Erakor Golden Star begin their quest for a maiden berth in the quarter-finals of the OFC Champions League
This will be the Vanuatu champions’ third consecutive appearance in the Group Stage of the region’s elite club football competition and hopes have never been higher.
Coach Benjamin Noel has assembled a well balanced side including inspirational skipper Jacky Ruben and his fellow midfield colleagues Barry Mansale and Raoul Coulon, experienced defender Jason Thomas who had stints in New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and in Cambodia, as well as brothers Tony and Kalfter from the famous Kaltack footballing family and three Brazilian imports, Dieago Galvao, Elias Silvar Junior and Alexandre Da Silva to name a few.
Despite Vanuatu’s domestic league is currently on a break, Noel is satisfied with his players’ preparations.
Recently the potential of the side was on full display in a couple of preparation matches against Group D hopefuls AS Magenta from New Caledonia in which Erakor produced two stylish and impressive performances to record a 2-0 win and 1-all draw.
Knowing that a good start will be crucial to his team’s qualification hopes, Benjamin Noel is aware of the heightened expectations come Saturday.
“Our aim is to progress, we aim high because we are the hosts here and we want to make sure our fans enjoy the way we play on Saturday against Kiwi,” he said.
“We know that everybody is prepared to their best and we respect all our opponents, we will try our best because it’s all about how we are going to play that will determine what happens for us on the field.
“We know a little bit about kiwi FC, we watched their games during their qualifying tournament, so we have been working on sorting out some of our problems that we need to when we come up against them,” added the Erakor Golden Star coach.
OFC Champions League 2019 – Qualifying Stage runners-up Kiwi FC from Samoa remain upbeat about their chances despite facing a number of challenges ahead of their group opener.
The Samoans’ road to Vanuatu was anything but smooth after being pushed to their limit before successfully negotiating a tough qualifying campaign at the end of January in the Cook Islands where they only clinched second spot behind hosts Tupapa Maraerenga on the final match day.
Assistant coach Phineas Young says the team has been preparing ever since for the upcoming tournament in Port Vila.
“We have been working hard since the qualifiers and after beating Lotoha’apai FC to secure the runners up place in the Cook Islands we went home and rested the boys for two days before going back and start preparing for this stage,” he said.
Nevertheless Kiwi FC have arrived in Vanuatu with squad of only 14 and without a number of key players.
“Our biggest problem is that three or four of our young players couldn’t make it to this stage from our qualifying team because of school, they are in year 13 and we support their parents’ decision to keep them in school, so this team will be a little bit different from the one in the Cook Islands.
“Also we can’t depend on players like Paul Scanlan who was the top scorer during the qualification stage with six goals, he is not with us here, but I believe we will manage, we are here to play and win.
Despite these set backs Young insists his players will give all they have.
“We are still really looking forward to it, we didn’t come here on a vacation.
“It’s a big challenge for us, especially against the hosts, we are expecting to play in front of a big crowd, but I told to our boys who are here that we have to go for it, I believe in all of these guys, we are ready for the game to take on Erakor.
“It’s a big game, the second stage is a big step up, it’s a new level and we warned the boys about that, it will be a new experience for them, most of our boys are really young, five of our players also played for the Under-16 team and our goalkeeper is also under 20.
“But we are here on a mission, this is not the first time for our club to play at this level, this is the third time that Kiwi football club had made it to the second stage, so we are looking forward to it and we have our fingers crossed that the boys will step up to the challenge.” insisted Young.
OFC Champions League 2019 – Group C
Team Wellington [WLG] vs. Ba FC [BAF]
Port Vila, Vanuatu, Saturday 23 Feb
Kick-off: 14:00 local (16:00 NZ)
Referee: Norbert HAUATA (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Philippe REVEL (TAH)
Assistant Referee 2: Sione TEU (TGA)
Fourth Official: Hamilton SIAU (SOL)
Team List: 1. Scott BASALAJ, 3. Adam MITCHELL, 4. Mario ILICH, 6. Taylor SCHRIJVERS, 7. Eric MOLLOY, 8. Henry CAMERON, 10. Nathanael HAILEMARIAM, 11. Bill ROBERTSON, 13. Daniel MULHOLLAND, 14. Jack-Henry SINCLAIR, 15. Joel STEVENS, 16. Angus KILKOLLY, 17. Alexander PALEZEVIC, 18. Aaron CLAPHAM, 19. Ross ALLEN, 20.Tiahn MANUEL, 22. Marcel KAMPMAN (GK)
Coach: Jose FIGUEIRA (England)
Team List: 1. Misiwani NAIRUBE, 2. Avinesh SUWAMY, 3. Shazil ALI, 4. Manasa NAWAKULA, 5. Sitiveni CAVUILAGI, 6. Simione NABENU, 7. Ratu DAU, 8. Darold KAKASI, 9. Abbu ZAHID, 10. Savenaca NAKALEVU, 11. Ilimotama JESE, 12. Kishan SAMI, 13. Malakai RAKULA, 16. Malakai TIWA, 17. Narend RAO, 19. Kalaveti SIVOI, 21. Atunaisa NAUCUKIDI (GK), 22. Josaia RATU, (GK)
Coach : Ronil KUMAR (Fiji)
For Live Stream click below
Kiwi FC [KIW] vs. Erakor golden Star[EKR]
Port Vila, Vanuatu, Saturday 23 Feb
Kick-off: 17:00 local (19:00 NZ)
Referee: George TIME (SOL)
Assistant Referee 1: Stephen SENIGA (SOL)
Assistant Referee 2: Johnny NIABO (SOL)
Fourth Official: Roger ADAMS (PNG)
Team List: 1. Eti FATU (GK), 3. Federico DIAZ, 5. Kitiona NAUERI, 6. Andrew SETEFANO, 7. Jarrell SALE, 8. Albert BELL, 9. Samuelu MALO, 12. Tiomte FONI, 13. Lionel TAYLOR, 14. Lafi IOANE, 15. Lotial MANO, 16. Silao MALO, 17. Tavita TOO, 21. Semu FAIMATA, (GK)
Coach: Martin TAMESESE (Samoa)
Erakor Golden Star
Team List: 1. Serge DANIEL (GK), 2. Jacques WANEMUT, 3. Michel COULON, 4. Jason THOMAS, 5. Diego GALVAO, 6. Raoul COULON, 7. Bernard DANIEL, 8. Jacky RUBEN, 9. Tony KALTACK, 10. Barry MANSALE, 11. Kaltfer KALTACK, 12. Godine TENENE, 13. Tony KALOTANG, 14. Gershom KALSONG, 15. Nemani ROQARA, 16. Jackson TASSO, 17. Jason Timothy BOTLENG, 18. Jesse KALOPONG, 19. Remy KALSSRAP, 20. Elias SILVAR JUNIOR, 21. Johnathan SPOKEYJACK, 22. Alexandre DA SILVA, 23. Daniel August ALICK (GK)
Coach: Benjamin NOEL (Vanuatu)
For Live Stream click below