Amicale will have the chance to repeat last year’s history-making achievements of Hekari United when they face Auckland City over two legs next month for the right to be crowned champions. The first club from Vanuatu to reach an OFC O-League final will be playing for the added incentive of a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011.
Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United broke new ground last year in becoming the first Pacific nation to claim the title, cracking the hegemony of New Zealand duo Auckland City and Waitakere United. The Vanuatuans however will have to defy an in-form Auckland who went through their six group matches undefeated. In contrast Amicale lost two matches, including their concluding group match on the weekend.
*History shines brightly on Amicale *Debutants at continental level, Amicale have fashioned a major achievement in simply qualifying for the final. While the odds may be stacked in favour of Auckland, the O-League’s newest success story will take heart from the achievements of the unheralded Hekari 12 months ago.
The similarities are plentiful, with both Amicale and last year’s champions featuring a number of highly regarded Solomon Islands imports. Both clubs also displayed new-found domestic form which was then transferred to a bigger stage. The Port Vila-based side claimed their inaugural Vanuatu National League to qualify for the Oceania tournament, before then winning the TVL Cup, defeating Vanuatu’s previous O-League representatives Tafea 2-1 in the final.
The evergreen Bartram Suri, whose younger brother Nelson Sale is also in the Amicale side, is perhaps the best known of the Solomon Islanders in the squad, and he lines up with a number of compatriots including Stanley Waita, Gibson Daudau and Alick Maemae. However, the fans favourite is undoubtedly local hero Fenedy Masauvakalo, with the prolific striker completing the group stage with six goals to be leading goalscorer in the tournament.
Amicale concluded their group fixtures in disappointing fashion with a 1-0 defeat at Solomon Islands’ Koloale. The Vanuatu side in truth had little to play for, needing only to avoid a mammoth defeat to confirm their position at the top of the group. The result lifted Koloale into second on the back of three straight wins, while Lautoka’s 1-1 draw at Hekari United consigned the Papua New Guinea side into an ignominious last-placed finish.
We’ve finished unbeaten in the group which is a great achievement, especially considering we were missing some key players at the start of the season.
*Favourites seek return to type *With three of the four OFC O-League titles to date won by New Zealand clubs, Auckland City will be hoping that last year’s victory by Hekari was a mere one-off. Auckland will have high hopes of returning to the winners’ dais if form is any gauge, with the 2009 champions securing their ticket to the final in the penultimate round.
Auckland City, perennial challengers for the New Zealand domestic title, concluded their group matches in style with a thumping 5-0 victory over Tahiti’s AS Tefana. Opening the scoring was captain Ivan Vicelich - a shining light for New Zealand at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ - with a one-sided match ending as striker Daniel Koprivcic completing a double.
Although they recently cruised to the domestic title, two-time O-League champions Waitakere disappointed in their pursuit of continental glory. A battling 2-1 win over New Caledonia’s AS Magenta left them six points in arrears of their Auckland neighbours at the conclusion of the group stage. Magenta completed a commendable campaign with two wins from their six starts, while Tefana finished bottom of the group on four points.
Auckland only dropped points on the road, at city rivals Waitakere and in Tahiti against Tefana in the pair’s first meeting. Combined with last year’s famous win by Hekari and it is little wonder Auckland’s co-coach Ramon Tribulietx is seeking to maintain his team’s focus for the task ahead. “We’ve finished unbeaten in the group which is a great achievement, especially considering we were missing some key players at the start of the season,” said Tribulietx. “Now with everyone onboard and looking ahead to the final, we need to maintain our high standards because it’s always difficult to go up to the islands and play.”