(Ugh I despise Bruce Grobbelaar)
The Champions League. When you hear that anthem play, you know what’s coming to you.
Tight, nervous encounters. A lot at stake. Electric atmosphere. Clubs testing themselves against the best of the best from other nations. Football leagues don’t have playoffs and domestic cups don’t mean much anymore, so Champions League is the only meaningful club contest left that’s do or die every match day. Clubs focus on it, gambling, giving up the prospect of local glory, risking it all to see if they can foot it on the big stage. Year in, year out you know where you stand locally. But where do you stand internationally? It’s all or nothing. Success is the stuff of legends. Failure is absolute.
Auckland City 7, Koloale FC Honiara 3
Kiwitea Street, Auckland, February 18 2012
The OFC (Oceania Football Confederation) Champions League, compared to its UEFA cousin, couldn’t be more similar and different. The matches are just as nervous, there is still a lot at stake, clubs still risk everything to win. But it’s not so much the thrill of being the best in Oceania that is at stake. It’s more the trip to the lucrative FIFA Club World Cup that is the primary motivating factor. The prize money on offer is a tiny drop in a very large ocean to Barcelona or AC Milan. But to clubs like Koloale of the Solomon Islands and Auckland City of New Zealand, it can literally make all the difference.
Since Australia left to join the Asian confederation, Oceania has in many ways been enhanced in New Zealand. We are the leaders now and it’s our burden and responsibility to make it work both for us and for the good of the smaller Pacific nations. In the past, Australia and Australian clubs dominated the confederation and the OFC CL wasn’t really on our radar screens on this side of the ditch. It’s still not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but with New Zealand (and Papua New Guinea in 2010) now representing the confederation globally, there is no denying the competition has become more interesting here. The influence of Oceania on the Club World Cup has also arguably become more positive as the confederation’s exclusively amateur clubs have competed with distinction. This was particularly evident in 2009 when Auckland City FC shocked the world by defeating Al Ahli of the host nation and African Champions TP Mazembe of Congo.
There is talk of the A-League’s New Zealand franchise, the Wellington Phoenix, being allowed to play in the OFC Champions League as its pathway to the Club World Cup. This to me would be a terrible thing for the O-League. The Phoenix would dominate as Oceania’s only professional club – the playing field would not be level and the competition would lose its romantic appeal. The Phoenix are for all intents and purposes an Australian club based in New Zealand. Their pathway to the Club World Cup, if any, should be through Asia.
Or another solution, one I have been banging on about to anyone who will listen for some years, is that the Asian confederation should be split in two with the South East Asian part forced to merge with Oceania. Then we would have a Champions League with a very different purpose and romance of its own. Huge clubs from the likes of Singapore and Japan would visit the likes of New Zealand and the Solomon Islands regularly to play big games in big stadia benefiting the smaller nations in both money and experience.
Until then however, I still love what we’ve got. Yesterday’s O-League outing was very special and the 7-3 score line in favour of the home side actually tells a pretty large chunk of the story. Auckland City dominated, but Koloale never, ever, ever gave up. But for a couple of reasonably average examples of goalkeeping, it could have been closer. The crowd were interesting in that there was plenty of white middle class support for Koloale, demonstrable by the huge cheer they got when they equalised with a gutsy, determined goal to make it 1-1 mid-way through the first half. Why? I’m not sure if it was polite encouragement for the underdogs or what, but one of the chants from the Auckland City ultras may have held a clue: “This city is ours, this city is ours. Stuff off to Kumeu, this city is ours”. Obviously they suspected more than a few of the spectators taking pleasure from their misfortune were visiting supporters of Waitakere United, cross town rivals whose club would be in O-League action in Tahiti later the same day. I strongly suspect they were right.
Either way, it was an inspiring day at the football. The way Koloale fought put a big smile on my dial as a supporter of two clubs – Waikato and whoever is playing Auckland. I now feel an overwhelming urge to extend that to three clubs, including Koloale FC.
Categories: OFC Champions League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.