Sport: Oceania football supremacy up for grabs in Auckland
Auckland City will begin their quest for a sixth consecutive Oceania Champions League football title this weekend.
The Oceania Champions League returns this week with new teams and a new host country.
One thing that hasn't changed is the defending champions, Auckland City.
But, as Vinnie Wylie reports, plenty are lining up to take their place.
Auckland City have won the past five Oceania club titles but were upset by Team Wellington in last month's New Zealand domestic final. That match was decided in extra time, while last year the Navy Blues needed a penalty shootout to deny Wellington a maiden Oceania crown. Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx says the team has had a few talks about last month's game and think they've learnt their lessons from the experience. Among their opponents in the group phase will be Papua New Guinea champions Lae City Dwellers. Head coach Peter Gunemba says his aim is to help and develop local players from PNG and believes they have what it takes to compete with the best from the Oceania region.
PETER GUNEMBA: "If we can beat Hekari with players from Solomon, Vanuatu, Fiji and Papua New Guinea combined and we only have picked our players from Papua New Guinea - excluding one of our players from Solomon - I see that my boys can perform and that has given me quite a lot of confidence and I know that we can do better. I believe in my players, we are capable of playing but we have not been given an opportunity (at regional level) but this is an opportunity that we want to put forward and see if we can do better."
Amicale FC owner Andrew Leong says the Vanuatu champions have recruited players from Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Scotland, New Zealand and Solomon Islands to boost their title hopes.
ANDREW LEONG: "I've learned in the past few years that lack of coaching, lack of professionallism, lack of educating our players from an early age to the senior level (has affected the quality of local players in Vanuatu). Just to bring other players with big calibre and big experience in the other part of the world puts a benchmark for Amicale, especially to compete in the Oceania league against a top-level team like Auckland City and other clubs in the region."
Samoa club champions Kiwi FC return this year after winning the OFC Preliminary to qualify for the main draw. However Martin Tamasese's side will be without most of their key import players.
MARTIN TAMASESE: "It's about six of them not available for the second stage because their clubs in New Zealand are holding them back so we only have three players still based in New Zealand for this year but most of our players are local players. It's not a big problem for us but we still have our quality players that can play for the O-League."
This year's event is being hosted in Auckland after two years in Fiji. AS Lossi from New Caledonia are the other newcomers to the main draw. The three group winners and best second-placed team will qualify for the knockout rounds, with the overall winner to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup in December.
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