Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

The teams have arrived and preparations are complete, as the second edition of the OFC Women’s Champions League kicks off today at SIFF Academy in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Having expanded from five teams in its inaugural tournament last June to eight this year, the Champions League also features five clubs making their competition debut this week: Auckland United FC from Aotearoa New Zealand, Avatiu FC of the Cook Islands, Vanuatu’s Tafea FC, Tonga’s Veitongo FC and host nation side Henderson Eels FC.

The tournament also caps off a busy period in the women’s game in the Oceania region, with many Champions League players having represented their countries in last month’s Women’s Olympic Football Tournament – Oceania Qualifier in Samoa.

Joint top goalscorer in Samoa and captain of last year’s Champions League runners up Hekari United, Marie Kaipu is excited for the tournament to begin, with her side taking on Tafea FC.  

She says her team has arrived in the Solomon Islands hoping to score plenty of goals with their strong midfield and forward line.

“I’m excited to be kicking off and looking forward to the first game. We’re looking forward to scoring some goals and enjoying the games.”

The other game on opening day features ‘home’ side Henderson Eels taking on fellow tournament first-timers Avatiu FC.

Henderson Eels Head Coach Godfrey Manehioha is hoping his team will be able to take advantage of making their Champions League debut in familiar surroundings. 

“The girls are looking forward to the tournament as the home club for our nation, and of course, we want to prove ourselves as well.”

That desire of debuting teams to prove themselves at the tournament is a challenge that Susan Williams, Avatiu FC captain, says her team is looking forward to taking.

“With a mixture of young and old players, we are just looking to get out there [and] make our mark,” she said.

“We want to play some good football and just come together and gain this experience with our sister countries. We’ve come out here to play, do our best and do the best that we can. And I know we’ll leave this competition with an experience that we can either learn from or pass on to others who may come, or the other youth to come.”

The second matchday sees defending champions AS Academy Féminine take fellow tournament newcomers, Tonga’s Veitongo FC.

Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek. AS Academy Féminine Head Coach Coralie Bretegnier

The New Caledonians are acutely aware that the expanded tournament means more competition for their crown, Head Coach Coralie Bretegnier said.

“We all know that it’s going to be an even higher level than last year. […] All the teams are well-prepared.

“We obviously have trained and got prepared even more to the other teams. We have a lot of younger players joining the team this year and we want to highlight those young talents that we’ll bring on the pitch.”

Rounding off the second matchday, Auckland United will play Fiji’s Labasa Women FC, who are looking to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.

Auckland United Head Coach Ben Bate outlined what it meant to be the first Kiwi team to play in this competition.

“It’s a great privilege for us to be here as the first New Zealand team. There’s a lot of unknowns for us, but we’re really looking forward to the next couple of weeks and seeing how we go – preparation has gone really well so far, we have 18 fit, healthy players, which is always a bonus. And yeah, we’re just getting used to the climate – it’s a little bit different than Auckland at this time of year!”

Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek. Auckland United FC Head Coach Ben Bate

Labasa Women FC will be hoping it takes Auckland a few more days to adapt to the heat, taking the opportunity to engage in a bit of friendly rivalry with their opening game opponents.

“We know that it’s very hard for the Auckland team with the weather here in the Solomon Islands,” laughed captain Sofi Diyalowai.

Heat and humidity aside, all eight clubs are champing at the bit to get their OFC Women’s Champions League campaigns underway and make even more history for women’s football in Oceania.

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