Duo eye breakthrough continental glory
A new name will be engraved on the OFC Champions League with New Zealand’s Team Wellington and Fiji’s Lautoka lining-up for a shot at a maiden continental triumph over the coming two weekends.
Auckland City’s elimination at the hands of their compatriots in the recent semi-final also means a new Oceania representative will feature at the FIFA Club World Cup, which will be held late this year in the United Arab Emirates. The Navy Blues saw their seven-year run come to an end, ending a period highlighted by consistent showings at the Club World Cup from the part-timers, most notably a third-place finish in 2014.
2018 OFC Champions League final
First leg – Sunday 13 May Team Wellington v Lautoka David Farrington Park, Wellington Kick-Off: 14:00 local time (4am CET)
Second leg – Sunday 20 May Lautoka FC v Team Wellington Churchill Park, Lautoka Kick-Off: 14:00 local time (4am CET)
Team Wellington The side from the New Zealand capital will be warm favourites after featuring in the past three finals, before finally getting their revenge over the Navy Blues a fortnight ago in a gripping last-four encounter. Team Wellington have constantly been in and around the honours on the domestic stage for numerous years, finishing second on the league ladder in four of the past five seasons.
Team Wellington’s English coach Jose Figueira has experience to fall back upon despite his youth, having recently been appointed New Zealand under-17 coach as well as an assistant to the senior national side. Team Wellington will undoubtedly be looking to open brightly and build a strong buffer on home soil, ahead of a potentially challenging return encounter in Melanesia.
Lautoka There is a buzz about Fiji football again following the success of the nation’s U-20 and U-23 teams in recent years, and now Lautoka have laid down a marker at club level. Lautoka will become the first Fijian side to feature in a Champions League final since iconic local outfit Ba way back in 2007. The Fijians will be aiming to be the first non-New Zealand side to win the competition since Hekari United’s unexpected breakthrough in 2010.
Lautoka collected impressive away wins against Tahiti’s AS Dragon and Solomon Islands’ Marist in the knockout stage, but the opening tie in Wellington is likely to be a key factor in determining the eventual winner. Team Wellington secured two one-sided friendly wins over Lautoka last year, but the Fijians personnel has since changed. Solomon star Benjamin Totori has arrived, along with two players with experience of New Zealand’s national competition in Cory Chettleburgh and Brian Kaltack.