Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

There was a poignant atmosphere at the OFC Futsal Men’s Champions League’s pre-tournament media conference in New Caledonia today.

A year ago today Marcel Hnepeune, captain of AS PTT, the host nation’s team, tragically passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest during a local club match.

Coach Michel Wassin says after a difficult year his side has everything to play for.

“I wanted the captain to answer it, but I’m going to do it anyway. Today, this event that brings the team together once again is a way for us to come back, to stand up again against a very, very difficult year. I wanted to thank all the families that have been with us for this difficult moment, all the players that are still here, that are still trying. I believe that because they are here today, they are together once again. I believe they’ve already won against this difficulty, and this is already a good thing for me,” Wassin said.

Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek (AS PTT Head Coach Michael Wassin)

And what about the pressure of playing at home?

“I believe it’s a great source of motivation to play at home. Sure, some boys in the team might feel pressure, but overall, I think it’s a great pleasure to play in front of a crowd that we know, a crowd that is our people. The goal right now is to play match by match, see how things happen, see how things evolve and hopefully we deliver a good show for everyone,” Wassin said.

AS PTT are joined by club sides from Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu who will compete for the prestigious title in the tournament’s second edition, to be played at Le Arène du Sud in Paita near Noumea.

All five teams are sprinkled with an array of national team players from their respected countries who competed at the OFC Futsal Men’s Nations Cup in Auckland last October.

The Solomon Islands are a traditional futsal powerhouse in Oceania and their representative Mataks FC is stacked with talent. The trio of Mana brothers, Benjamin, Junior, and captain Ellis, were part of the Kooline team that won the inaugural OFC Futsal Men’s Champions League in 2019, beating AS PTT 7-5 in the final.

“The boys are ready to go for the competition and it’s a beautiful place and we will enjoy our stay here,” coach Francis Lafai said.

“When you talk about futsal, it’s a big thing in Solomon Islands. It’s a challenge for the team, but the boys are ready to compete,” Lafai added.

Vanuatu is represented by UNV FC. The University club coached by Cedric Quari also represented Vanuatu in the first edition of the tournament five years ago.

“The boys are ready to go for the competition and it’s a beautiful place (Noumea) and we will enjoy our stay here. It’s going to be tough. We have four or five players from the national team and it’s a plus for the players’ mentality,” Quari said.

Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek (UNV FC Head Coach Cedric Quari)

Fiji’s Suva Futsal Club is also stacked with national team talent. Captain Rajneel Singh and national team captain Felipe Baravilala will look to carry their form from the OFC Futsal Men’s Nations Cup into this competition.

“Fortunately for us, we have five team members that have been there in 2019. Just like the other teams, we have experience, but we are quite realistic. We know it’s going to be very tough and we’re going to take every match as it is and we’re going to feel the pressure until the end,” coach Vivek Nadan said.

Tongan entry Veitongo FC are a football powerhouse in the Kingdom, but player-coach Hemaloto Polovili acknowledges they are underdogs for this tournament, having brought a young team to New Caledonia.

“I think it’s new for our players because we play football and then we go to futsal. We’re not specialised in futsal. So it’s hard for us, but our boys will do our best in this competition, especially for the young ones,” Polovili said.

There are four match days of round robin play before the semi-finals on Saturday and the third and fourth place playoff and final on Sunday.