Just one of the four Champions League group stages are being hosted in New Zealand this year. Group C kicks off at Centre Park Mangere this Saturday, bringing some of the best teams from the Pacific Islands to South Auckland – and bringing back some familiar faces from National League competitions past.
Qualification: NZFC Minor Premiers 2016
Coach: Ramon Tribulietx
The six-in-a-row OFC Champions from 2016 haven’t had it all their own way in the New Zealand National League this season, wrapping up the minor premiership title in the last minute of regular time in their league season. With journeys to Japan in the Club World Cup, as well as a victorious trip to the Nike New Year Lunar Cup in Hong Kong, Ramon Tribulietx’s men have racked up the miles – but not racked up the goals and points of previous seasons.
That’s not to say they’re not the side they were, with victories over K-League and Hong Kong Premier League teams under their belt. But they’ve not done it as easily as in previous years. With former Real Sociedad keeper Enaut Zubikarai between the sticks, they’ve been tough to score against. Should Ryan De Vries burst back into last year’s form, it’ll be tough to stop them.
Lae City Dwellers
Qualification: 2015-16 Papua New Guinea Champions
Coach: Peter Gunemba
A second consecutive appearance from PNG’s top team, having qualified for 2017 before competing in 2016’s edition of the competition. Last year Lae showed few signs of nerves in their first continental campaign, nearly pulling off a 1 – 1 draw with defending champions and 2017 Group C opponents Auckland City, before Dae Wook Kim’s late header sealed it for the New Zealand team. Goals were plentiful as well – their 5 – 4 loss to the Solomon Warriors was entertaining from start to finish.
PNG enjoyed 2016, taking the All Whites to penalties in the OFC Nations Cup. But there’s trouble in Papua New Guinean football right now, which has seen Hekari United’s chairman John Kapi Natto form a rival to the PNGFA, with the support of 12 associations.
Raymond Gunemba, the pacy striker, has almost a goal every other game in his appearances for Hamilton Wanderers this season. Combining with his brother Troy, they’ll be hoping to score Lae’s first victory in OFC competition.
Qualification: 2015 VFF National Super League
Coach: Percy Avock
Debutantes in the OFC Champions League are always interesting to watch, no more so than Malampa Revivors – who qualified for the competition by beating Ifra Black Bird F.C in September 2o15. No, that’s not a typo. The Revivors were formed in 2010, combining Presbytarian church teaching with football and have gone on to become one of the most successful clubs in Vanuatu outside of the traditional sporting stronghold of Port Vila.
Having recruited experienced A.S Mont Dore coach Percy Avock for their first OFC campaign, the Revivors are holding off on their squad announcement – making it difficult to pick any of their players as one to watch. Best keep an eye on all of them.
Qualification: Runners-up 2016 Solomon S-League
Coach: Commins Menapi
Western United return to OFC Champions League action after a year away, benefiting from the inclusion of both the S-League champions and runners up. They’ll be seeking their first competition points, having failed to gain any in their previous debut appearance. Head coach and former OFC Champions League top-scorer Commins Menapi will be hoping for a solid performance from his side.
Only one name to watch in this side, returning goal-machine Benjamin Totori. The terror of National League defences past, he’ll be looking to power his team into the semi-finals of the tournament. That said, Nelson Sale has rejoined the club in an attempt to bolster their defence.
Categories: OFC Champions League
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.