OFC Champions League commences this weekend and concludes in May
Sixteen team field headed by Auckland City who have won past seven editions
Winner to represent Oceania at this year's FIFA Club World Cup
The latest edition of the OFC Champions League kicks-off boasting a familiar feel with holders Auckland City hunted by a host of aspirants. The New Zealanders are seeking to extend their continental dominance to eight successive titles, having won nine overall.
Following last year’s increase from 12 to 16 teams, the new campaign will see another adjustment to the format with the introduction of quarter-finals. The top two from each group will now advance as opposed to just the group winners.
Groups A and B will commence on Saturday hosted in Vanuatu and Tahiti respectively. Groups C and D will kick-off a fortnight later to be held in Auckland and Honiara. FIFA.com runs the rule over the four groups.
Favourites Auckland welcome contenders Auckland City will welcome Fiji’s Lautoka, Papua New Guinea’s Madang and Tahiti’s AS Venus, and although playing in their home city, the Navy Blues will not enjoy the advantage offered by the intimate confines of their Kiwitea Street home ground. The Aucklanders will again start as hot favourites with their squad’s overall experience deepened by another strong showing on the world stage last December in the United Arab Emirates. Former New Zealand international Cole Peverley is a recent addition to the squad.
Team Wellington headline challengers Auckland City’s compatriots Team Wellington undoubtedly pose the main threat to the Navy Blue’s hegemony, both domestically and on the continental stage. The capital side have reached the past three finals, falling agonisingly short in 2015 via the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. If their recent domestic form is any gauge, Team Wellington could well push their rivals to the limit once again. New Caledonia’s Magenta will pose a strong challenge in the group, as will Solomon Islands’ old-stagers Marist, while Samoa’s Lupe o le Soaga are rank outsiders after qualifying through the recent preliminary stage.
Lae seek to ride PNG wave Papua New Guinea heavy-hitters Lae City Dwellers will be looking to maintain the nation’s sharp rise on the continental football stage over recent years. The local champions are in hot form on the domestic stage, much to the delight of the fans in the Morobe Province, a heartland of PNG football. Their main challenger is another team hailing from their nation’s football hotbed: Fiji’s Ba. Also in the group are Vanuatu debutants and group-hosts Nalkutan, who hail from the remote island of Tanna, as well as preliminary round winners Tupapa Maraerenga of the Cook Islands.
Dragon add to their firepower Group B is arguably the most even of the four headlined by hosts AS Dragon who boast a rich history of success, not to mention providing several personnel for Tahiti’s storied 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup side. The hosts’ ranks received a massive boost recently with the arrival of veteran Ligue 1 defender Reynald Lemaitre who links up with former Nancy team-mate Marama Vahirua. Solomon Warriors, New Caledonia’s Lossi and Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star will all make the long trek to French Polynesia to feature in the group.