- Newly enhanced OFC Champions League group-stage completed
- Familiar names into quarter-finals including holders Auckland City
- Winner to represent Oceania at this year's FIFA Club World Cup
Sixteen teams became eight in the OFC Champions League on the weekend, following the completion of the group-stage in the newly enhanced competition. Several familiar faces, headlined by seven-time defending champions Auckland City FC, headline the remaining octet, which also includes a new name shining brightly on their continental debut.
The 2018 competition commenced in early February, featuring four additional teams as Oceania’s premier continental competition continues its growth. The two top in each of the four groups advanced to the quarter-finals, with the top team rewarded with a home last-eight match.
The quarter-finals will take place on 7 & 8 March, before home and away semi-finals and final. The winner, as always, will feature in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Vanuatu’s Nalkutan were the fairytale story of the 2018 group-stage. Hailing from the remote island of Tanna, the debutants earned an impressive 4-1 win over the highly-regarded second-placed Lae City Wanderers, to top the group and earn a home quarter-final. With national team coach Moise Poida at the helm and a couple of big-name Solomon Islands’ imports, the Vanuatu club may yet hit more headlines in 2018.
Nalkutan (Vanuatu) 9, Lea City Dwellers (PNG) 6, Ba (Fiji) 3, Tupapa Maraerenga (Cook Islands) 0.
The tightest of the four groups concluded in dramatic fashion with the top-two both suffering a loss over the three matches in Tahiti. Solomon Warriors leapfrogged into second thanks only to a tight 2-1 win over Dragon on the final day. There was much focus on the form of the Tahitians, who lined up with two former French Ligue 1 stars in Reynald Lemaitre and Marama Vahirua.
AS Dragon (Tahiti) 6, Solomon Warriors (Solomon Islands) 6, Erakor Golden Star (Vanutu) 4, AS Lossi (New Caledonia) 1
Winners of an incredible nine titles overall, Auckland City were favoured to top the group and they did just that. However, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed on paper, and the Navy Blues needed a lone goal from Emiliano Tade to defeat Lautoka and edge the Fijians from top spot. There was disappointment for Madang as the PNG side went home from Auckland without any points.
Auckland City FC (New Zealand) 9, Lautoka (Fiji) 6, AS Venus (Tahiti) 3, Madang (PNG) 0
Huge crowds flocked to Honiara’s renowned Lawson Tama stadium, and the home supporters were duly rewarded as local heroes Marist FC advanced. Team Wellington topped the group, thanks only to a late Angus Kilkolly equaliser against the Melanesians. Team Wellington are chasing a fourth successive final, having lost on each occasion to their New Zealand rivals.
Team Wellington (New Zealand) 7, Marist FC (Solomon Islands) 5, AS Magenta (New Caledonia) 4, Lupe Ole Soaga (Samoa) 0