Vanuatu’s Amicale are 90 minutes away from creating history heading into Sunday’s OFC Champions League decider against Auckland City in New Zealand. While Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United won the crown four years ago, Vanuatu can lay claim to being the first island nation in the Pacific to win the title with victory on Sunday. Already Amicale are the first non-Australian or non-New Zealand club to reach the Champions League final twice.
Papua New Guinea, Oceania’s most populace nation, shares an enormous landmass border with Indonesia. While Vanuatu has a population of little more than 200,000, with an incredible crowd of nearly 10,000 turning out last weekend in Port Vila as the home side played out a tense 1-1 first-leg draw against Auckland.
The New Zealanders are indisputably Oceania’s most successful club over recent years having been crowned continental kings in each of the past three seasons, subsequently representing Oceania with distinction in three FIFA Club World Cups. Boasting a valuable away goal, the Aucklanders will start favourites on the tight confines of their Kiwitea Street pitch.
Recent history on their side
Amicale, however, are as well placed as any team in recent years to crack Auckland’s hegemony. Remarkably, despite Auckland’s impressive overall record, the Vanuatu side are undefeated against the Navy Blues in their past three meetings, a run which includes a 1-0 win in last month’s group stage.
The two sides are also building a healthy history of competition with the pair meeting in the 2011 decider, won 6-1 on aggregate by Auckland after a runaway 4-0 return leg at home.
All the indications are that this year’s finale is shaping as a far tighter contest. “We showed we could come back from a goal down in Port Vila and we beat them in the group stage so we have to go there full of confidence,” said Amicale defender Colin Marshall.
Coached by young Australian Nathan Hall, the Port Vila side boast numerous Vanuatu internationals. Also in their ranks are a host of imports hailing from both the local region and further afield. Richard Anisua and Jack Wetney lead a contingent of Solomon Islanders, however, captain and defensive cornerstone Nelson Sale will be missing through suspension.
Navy Blues eye new heights
The defending champions are chasing their fourth consecutive Oceania crown and sixth title overall. With a win on Sunday, Auckland City stand to make history as the club with the most appearances at the FIFA Club World Cup. Currently they are tied with Egyptian giants Al Ahly on five.
Emiliano Tade is Auckland City's top-scorer with five goals and he is fit again for selection to challenge for the Golden Boot award. The Argentinian forward needs one goal to equal AS Pirae striker and Tahiti’s 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup hero Naea Bennett, who has tallied six.
"Amicale have a good combination of local talent and European club experience and it’s really difficult to say which of their individuals will be the most dangerous to us,” said Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx. "But when you look at Jack Wetney, Dominique Fred and Kensi Tangis, they can all create and score goals from nothing and we have to be at our best.”
There will be additional interest in the result among Auckland’s City’s national league rivals, with a portion of their FIFA Club World Cup prize money to be shared with New Zealand Football and the seven other domestic clubs.