Magenta, Lupe Ole Soaga and Team Wellington have hit the ground running in Honiara, joining host club Marist FC in final preparations for the OFC Champions League Group D kick-off on Saturday afternoon at Lawson Tama Stadium.
2017 semi-finalists AS Magenta will open their campaign against Qualifier runners-up Lupe Ole Soaga at 1pm, but all eyes will be on the home side as they take on three-time OFC Champions League runners-up Team Wellington at 4pm.
Marist made their first appearance in the OFC Champions League since 2006 when they travelled to Tahiti. This time they get to play on the hallowed grounds of Lawson Tama which will certainly help nerves as they face one of the competition’s toughest teams.
After losing coach Juliano Schmeling with just four matches to go in last year’s S-League, brothers Jerry Allen and Jerry Sam have taken on head and assistant roles respectively, guiding the side to a second place finish and a second pop at the region’s premier club competition in as many years.
Jerry Allen said the changes at the end of 2017 left the team a little unsettled but he believes they’ve regrouped well and are stronger than ever as they approach this latest challenge.
“To me, I think the boys are ready,” he stated.
“Right now we put our focus on Team Wellington, we know they are a good team and we’ve been working hard in the last weeks to prepare for them.”
Allen added that home ground advantage will definitely bolster the players.
“To me it’s very important that we play at home. Every time we went away and now it’s at home the boys are looking forward to it. So I’m just calling for the supporters to come in and we can create an environment and an atmosphere.”
Team Wellington coach Jose Figuera’s side arrived with just one full day before kick-off which leaves just a short period of time for the squad to acclimatise to the conditions.
However the recently appointed New Zealand U-17 coach hasn’t shown any concern about his players’ ability to adapt quickly to the environment.
“It’s going to take a couple of days to get used to. It’s probably not as hot in Wellington so we need to make sure we get used to it as soon as possible.”
Figuera’s side has seen an increased number of New Zealanders join the squad, with Jack-Henry Sinclair, Liam Wood and Hamish Watson coming via the Wellington Phoenix.
Sinclair, who led Figueria’s U-17 national team through the OFC U-17 Championship in 2015, has slipped into a starting position with ease, adapting to the level and style and quickly cemented himself as both an effective defender and adept goal scorer.
The recruitment has been smart and Team Wellington are a formidable side, however Figuera has no qualms about the task ahead.
“It’s always, every game, is always difficult,” he said, “and I think the first game against the local team will be a big challenge for us.
“I think the first game, regardless of the opposition, always brings an element of caution. We understand Henry [Fa’arodo], and other good players that are part of the team but we step into a little bit of the unknown tomorrow.”
The opening match of Group D will be a hot one with 2017 group hosts AS Magenta welcoming Lupe Ole Soaga to Lawson Tama Stadium for the second meeting of these sides in as many years.
Magenta coach Alain Moizan has fond memories of Solomon Islands hallowed football ground, but still finds the heat stifling.
“I have really good memories because in 2012 with the national team we were welcomed really well by the Solomon public,” the Frenchman said.
Last year his side triumphed 2-1 over the Qualifier runners-up and he believes this year they will again put up a strong challenge.
“Our team has changed and I imagine theirs has too,” he said.
“When we played them last year we dominated the majority of the match, but we had trouble scoring goals. We need to be effective – on offense and defence too – to win this first match and enter the competition on a high note.”
Previous results don’t mean much to Paul Ualesi and his side as they continue to always try and do the best they can.
“This is a great opportunity for our team,” he said.
“From the Qualifier to this really tough stage, it’s a great opportunity to play the boys from Magenta. We know it will be a tough one, all the teams are here to win.”
Ualesi said that although his side lost to Magenta 12 months ago, they’ve worked hard on specific areas of weakness and hope that will play in their favour tomorrow.
“Playing them last year was a big challenge. It was in Noumea, at Numa Daly, it was really tough and also a home game for Magenta.
“Our team this year is similar, and we’ve worked hard on areas we need to improve for this match tomorrow.”
Lupe Ole Soaga open Group D at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara at 1pm, followed by Marist FC and Team Wellington at 4pm.
AS Magenta [NCL] vs. Lupe Ole Soaga [SAM]
Lawson Tama Stadium
Honiara, Solomon Islands
Saturday 24 February
Kick-off: 13h00 local (16h00 SAM / 15h00 NZL / 13h00 NCL)
Referee: Robinson BANGA (VAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Jeremy GARAE (VAN)
Assistant Referee 2: Denson SALE (VAN)
Fourth Official: Jacques AVERII (TAH)
Vital Statistics: Saturday marks 364 days since Magenta last met the Samoan club champions. They played at Stade Numa Daly in Noumea, New Caledonia with the home side prevailing 2-1.
The Players: While there is plenty of senior talent in this squad one of the rising stars is defender Cameron Wadenges who captained the New Caledonia U-17 national team for their FIFA U-17 World Cup debut in India last year.
Coach Quote: “We are used to fighting, we have ambition. We want to win the group, if not at least finish second.”
Team List: 1. Steeve IXOEE (GK), 2. Jean-Christ WAJOKA, 3. Jean-Brice WADRIAKO, 4. Gregory TARAMOIN, 5. Mickael TIAOU, 6. Iler HNAUK, 7. Renzo WEJIEME, 8. Yorick HNAUTRA, 9. Emile OUNEI, 10. Richard SELE, 11. Kevin NEMIA, 12. Benjamin BERNARD HERVE, 13. Cameron WADENGES, 14. Jean-Claude JEWINE, 15. Didier SIMANE, 16. Mickael ULILE (GK), 17. Wilsen POAMENO, 18. Bill NICHOLLS, 19. Joseph ATHALE, 20. Maraima TCHAO, 22. Henri WARAWANE, 23. Pierrot JELEWED, 29. Leon IXOEE (GK)
Coach: Alain MOIZAN [FRA]
Lupe Ole Soaga
Vital Statistics: Lupe Ole Soaga has progressed to the OFC Champions League from the Qualifier every time they have tried, however they are yet to go any further than the Group Stage.
The Players: Lapalapa Toni is an exciting attacker and has shown his ability to create something from very little. Midfielder Michael Fifi’i, a native Solomon Islander, will be making his first appearance at Lawson Tama since he played for the U-20 national side and is sure to perform to the local crowd’s expectations.
Coach Quote: “I know it’s going to be a tough one, all the teams are here to win and we will do our best against our brothers from New Caledonia.”
Team List: 1. Faalavelave MATAGI (GK), 2. Vaalii FAALOGO, 3. Spencer KELI, 4. Vito LALOATA, 5. Tauati TANOAI, 6. Michael FIFI’I, 8. Darren ALATINA TALILAI, 9. Samuelu MALO, 10. Lapalapa TONI, 11. Suivai ATAGA, 12. Kareti SOAGA, 13. Vaa TAUALAI, 14. Albert BELL, 15. Faafua ATAGA (GK), 16. Andrew SETEFANO, 17. Ken KEREWI, 18. Bird VAGAIA, 19. Cihan ERBIL, 20. Luki GOSCHE, 21. Kevin AH KUOI, 22. Eti FATU (GK), 23. Johnwesley TEO
Suspended: 7. Lawrie LETUTUSA
Coach: Paul UALESI [SAM]
Marist FC [SOL] vs. Team Wellington [NZL]
Lawson Tama Stadium
Honiara, Solomon Islands
Saturday 24 February
Kick-off: 16h00 local (16h00 NCL / 18h00 NZL / 19h00 SAM)
Referee: Norbert HAUATA (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Folio MOEAKI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: Malaetala SALANOA (SAM)
Fourth Official: Kader ZITOUNI (TAH)
Vital Statistics: Assistant coach Jerry Sam made eight OFC Champions League appearances for the club during his playing days.
The Players: Marist’s only foreign player is also their most capped. Koriak Upaiga of Papua New Guinea has featured in 36 OFC Champions League matches. That is nine more than Joachim Waroi and ten more than Jeffery Bule
Coach Quote: “We miss the Brazilian boys who were with us but I told the players, ‘don’t miss the opportunity to play in front of your home crowd’. It’s football, you do well in this competition and you might go somewhere else. It’s the opportunity.”
Team List: 1. Anthony TALO (GK), 2. Joachim WAROI, 3. Michael BOSO, 4. John ROFETA, 5. Jeffery BULE, 6. Robert LAUA, 7. Atkin KAUA, 8. Henry FA’ARODO, 9. Abraham INIGA, 10. Timothy BAKALE, 11. Mathias IANI, 12. Zantas KABINI (GK), 13, Natanela BERO 14. Koriak UPAIGA, 16. John AETA, 18. Thomas AMASIA, 19. Joel PAKALIKI, 20. Davidson TOME, 21. Alvin RAY, 22. Harold NAUANIA, 23. Frederick DOLA, 24. Thomas TALOGA, 25. Joachim KAIRI (GK)
Coach: Jerry ALLEN [SOL]
Vital Statistics: Since debuting in the OFC Champions League in 2015, Team Wellington have featured in every final.
The Players: Although yet to play for Team Wellington because of the stand down period from professional football, the arrival of Hamish Watson is a coup for the club ahead of the OFC Champions League. A New Zealand youth international, Watson knows the pressures of playing high level football, and the unique Oceania environment.
Coach Quote: “We’re expecting a tough test and we have to make sure we’re at the top of our game and ready to go.”
Team List: 1. Scott BASALAJ (GK), 2. Justin GULLEY, 3. Scott HILLIAR, 4. Mario ILICH, 5. Liam WOOD, 6. Taylor SCHRIJVERS, 7. Eric MOLLOY, 8. Tiahn MANUEL, 9. Tom JACKSON, 10. Nathanael HAILEMARIAM, 11. Mario BARCIA, 12. Andrew BEVIN, 13. Roy KAYARA, 14. Jack-Henrt SINCLAIR, 15. Joel STEVENS, 16. Angus KILKOLLY, 19. Ross ALLEN, 20. Daniel MULHOLLAND, 21. Hamish WATSON, 22, Marcel KAMPMAN (GK), 23. Steve DIMAKIS (GK)
Coach: Jose FIGUEIRA [ENG]