The road to Oceania glory commences in earnest on Monday with a newly expanded OFC Champions League. The competition has been expanded by four teams to 12 with the winner of next month’s two-legged final to represent the continent at December’s FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014.
Auckland City, winner of the past three tournaments, will again be the team to beat having earned respect for their performances on the global stage in recent years. At the other end of the spectrum are Kiwi FC who were victors at last year’s preliminary competition, and will become the first Samoan club to compete at this level since 2001.
Fiji will play host to the three groups with the winners and the best placed runner-up advancing to the home and away semi-finals.
While Auckland’s performances will be closely monitored, much of the spotlight will fall on Tahiti’s AS Pirae who will boast arguably the most famous name to grace the competition; former French Ligue 1 star Marama Vahirua. The side will also possess several members of the historic Toa Aito side that featured at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, as well Raimana Li Fung Kuee who claimed the adidas Bronze ball for his skilful displays at last year’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup on home soil.
Also featured in Group A are the unpredictable Solomon Warriors and Kiwi FC. Traditionally, New Zealanders Waitakere United would also provide a serious challenge but the two-time champions endured an unusually tough domestic campaign and finished fourth. While they seem weaker than in recent years they still boast the competition’s all-time leading scorer in Solomon Islander Benjamin Totori.
Lining up in Group B are Amicale of Vanuatu, Auckland City, AS Dragon from Tahiti and hosts Nadi in what is arguably the toughest group of the three. 2011 finalists Amicale can call on local sharp-shooter Fenedy Masauvakalo, plus a host of talented imports led by Jack Wetney, Alick Maemae and Nelson Sale.
Auckland City are without doubt the region's powerhouse having recently added the New Zealand national league crown to their trophy cabinet for the first time in five years. On the continental stage they are without peer and are set to make a record tenth appearance, in which time they have secured five titles, and just as many FIFA Club World Cup appearances.
Tahiti’s AS Dragon have developed rapidly in recent years and are now aiming to take their domestic form to the continental stage. Captain Nicolas Vallar has experience of playing professionally in France, Steevy Chong Hue famously scored the decider for Tahiti in the 2012 OFC Nations Cup final, while Jonathan Tehau was a national hero after scoring against Nigeria at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Group C looks intriguingly posed and features Ba of Fiji, Hekari United of Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia’s AS Magenta and Vanuatu’s Tafea. Ba are expected to keep local hopes buoyant despite a lack of imports. A talented and experienced side will enjoy the strike power offered by Osea Vakatalesau, who was the leading scorer across the globe during 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying.
Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United remain the only non-New Zealand side in the competition’s modern era after taking the title and a berth to the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010. The Port Moresby side have long been dominant on the domestic stage, but have yet to come close to repeating their heroics of four years ago.
Former French international Alain Moizan is at the helm AS Magenta, with their standout names being former international Pierre Wajoka and the man who replaced him as captain of the national team, Olivier Dokunengo.