Amicale's quest inspired by Hekari

A little over a year ago, Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United broke New Zealand’s long-standing hold on the OFC O-League crown. Now Vanuatu’s Amicale are just 180 minutes away from repeating that success with local hero and O-League leading goalscorer Fenedy Masauvakalo leading the way.

Amicale are entering uncharted waters as the first Vanuatu side to reach the Oceania final since the restructure of the continental tournament in 2006. The tight confines of the PVL Stadium in Port Vila will be the setting as Auckland City visit the Pacific nation, with the return leg scheduled for New Zealand in a fortnight's time.

On offer is not only continental glory but qualification for December’s FIFA Club World Cup, and the chance to rub shoulders with the elite of world football. Masauvakalo tells that his side believe they are capable of knocking over their more highly fancied opponents and are looking to become a new standard-bearer for football in the Pacific.

Free-scoring final in prospect
This year’s O-League final has the two top-scoring sides in the 2011 O-League going head-to-head. The Auckland City attack includes the likes of their leading scorer and New Zealand Futsal squad member Daniel Koprivcic, Spanish import Manel Exposito, who was once on the books of Catalan giants Barcelona, and former domestic Golden Boot winner Luis Corrales.

Both teams hit 12 goals apiece in their six group matches, with Masauvakalo accounting for half of his side’s goals. Little surprise then that the powerfully built No9 says he is in the form of his career. “Last year and this year has been the best form of my life,” said Masauvakalo. “I have improved a lot with my scoring style both in the Vanuatu league and in the O League. I have worked really hard to reach this level so I am happy with my performances to date.”

Amicale are the rising force of Vanuatuan football having recently usurped long-standing local powerhouses Tafea, who reached the Oceania final a decade ago in a previous incarnation of the continental club competition. Amicale’s achievements, Masauvakalo believes, has provided a fillip to the local game. “The success of Amicale has pushed Vanuatu football to another level,” he said. “We now act like professional players and every week we have over 3,000 fans come to the stadium. Also sponsors are coming to the game, so I’m sure our club’s success has helped the popularity of football in Vanuatu.”

Pacific united
Until 2010, Auckland City and Waitakere United seemed to have an unshakable hold on the continent’s premier club competition, winning all three previous editions by relatively comfortable margins. Waitakere claimed the first two O-League titles before their city rivals Auckland got in on the act with a maiden title two years ago.

Then it was the turn of Hekari, with little previous pedigree in the competition but boosted by some of the Pacific’s best talent, to claim a spectacular win. Now Amicale are looking to follow the same path with a squad that features no fewer than eight Solomon Islanders, including highly-regarded pair of Jack Wetney and Stanley Waita.

It is a fact that provides Masauvakalo with equal measures of both pride and confidence. “Hekari's success last year did provide us with an extra boost, “he says. “If an island club can make it to the FIFA Club World Cup then we can do it too. We will play for the island nations.

“Football in the Pacific has improved a lot in the last four years. New Zealand has shown us the way. They have done well in the recent World Cup in South Africa and I think we can catch up with them soon. We have beaten the All Whites in Adelaide in 2004 (in a FIFA World Cup qualifier) and I am sure all islands players can play on the world stage with the right commitment.”