Friday 08 February 2019, 06:42

Pacific contenders line up seeking to break NZ hegemony

  • OFC Champions League group matches kick-off

  • Sixteen-team field lines up with final in May

  • New Zealand’s dominance dates back to 2011

The 2019 edition of the OFC Champions League gets into full swing this weekend with two of the four groups kicking-off.

Holders Team Wellington and record-nine winners Auckland City will sit out this weekend with only Groups A and B in action. With New Zealand’s dominance now stretching over eight seasons since Hekari United’s win in 2010, the Pacific island clubs will again attempt to challenge the status quo.

Once again all 11 OFC Member Associations are represented this season with four Polynesian nations competing in the recent preliminary stage. Cook Islands’ Tupapa Maraerenga and Samoa’s Kiwi progressed to join the 16-team field.

The top two in each of the four groups will progress to April’s knockout stage, with the final to be held on 12 May. This year, unlike the previous two seasons, the decider will be a single match.

Group A: Hienghene Sport (New Caledonia – host), Toti City (Papua New Guinea), AS Tefana (Tahiti), Malampa Revivors (Vanuatu)

Group B: Lautoka (Fiji - host), Central Sport (Tahiti), Henderson Eels (Solomon Islands), Morobe Wawens (Papua New Guinea)

Group C: Erakor Golden Star (Vanuatu – host), Team Wellington (New Zealand), Ba (Fiji), Kiwi (Samoa)

Group D: Solomon Warriors (Solomon Islands – host), Auckland City (New Zealand), AS Magenta (New Caledonia), Tupapa Maraerenga (Cook Islands)

While the New Zealand pair start as warm favourites, last season’s runners-up Lautoka headline the charge among the rest of the field. Group B shapes as an even contest, though the other contenders are not familiar names at continental level.

Francophone pair Hienghene Sport of New Caledonia and Tahiti’s AS Tefana will boast strong ambitions in Group A. Both sides count several key internationals in their ranks, while the latter are a familiar name in the Champions League.

After four strong continental campaigns, Team Wellington line up in Group C as reigning champions after last season’s breakthrough success and subsequent strong showing at the FIFA Club World Cup. Despite their UAE-adventure, it has been a challenging domestic campaign for the TeeDubs.

There have been no such problems for dethroned Oceanian kings Auckland City, who now boast a big lead in the local standings. It will, however, be far from easy against Group D hosts Solomon Warriors and New Caledonia regulars AS Magenta.