By: Vincent van der Put and Ola Bjerkevoll
Group C will kick off this weekend in Port Vila in Vanuatu and the teams are ready to go. One team from Fiji, one from New Zealand, one from Samoa and one from the hosts Vanuatu will be pitted against each other. Football in Oceania gives you everything you need to know.
Founded in 1935, the Men in Black are the most successful club in Fiji. The club won the most titles and cups and their youth department is very successful. The last two years, however, Lautoka has taken over a bit of that hegemony with winning two titles in 2017 and 2018. Ba have started the 2019 National league well with 7 points out of 3 games.
And after the surprisingly early elimination of Lautoka in Group A, Ba needs to come through the group to get Fiji’s pride back on a high level. In a group with the second team from the Qualification stage, that is definitely not an impossible task, however with favourites Team Wellington and Vanuatu’s Erakor Golden Star, Ba will need to battle for the second spot in the group.
When we look at Ba’s squad it is a mix of experienced players and youngsters. In goal, the battle will be between Misiwani Nairube and oldy Josaia Ratu, with Nairube having the advantage of playing meritoriously in the U-20 World Cup back in 2015.
In defence, the experienced Avinesh Suwamy will have to take the lead together with Sakaraia Naisua and Manasa Nawakula who, at age 24 has a lot of experience. In midfield, there are a bunch of known players with Malakai Rakula, Narendra Rao, talisman Malakai Tiwa and youngster Kishan Sami. At 18 years old he is already a first-team starter, has experienced in the last Champions League and he is a Fiji international.
Up front head coach Ronil Kumar has a lot of choices with Abbu Zahid, big man Saula Waqa and Ratu Dau, who will need to make sure that there will be goals. Waqa, who is 197 cm, is just 23 years old but already won the golden boot in the 2015 OFC Champions League and scored a goal at the 2015 U-20 World Cup against Honduras.
Ratu Dau, who came in from Tavua, is at 18 years old already international and was last year at the OFC U-20 Championship the man to watch. It is not for nothing that Ba wanted him for the Champions League. The squad has one foreign player, 20-year-old Solomon Islander Darold Kakasi who studies in Fiji plays up front, he is, however, expected to be on the bench.
Expected position: 3rd
Experienced player: Avinesh Suwamy
Player to watch: Misiwani Nairube
Talent to watch (Born 1998 or later): Ratu Dau (2000) and Kishan Sami(2000)
Erakor Golden Star
‘Yesu Iwi’, God is good! The motto of Erakor Golden Star. The yellows have found themselves in a difficult group with Fiji’s Ba and New Zealand favourite Team Wellington. But after the disappointing run by Malampa Revivors who finished fourth in Group A, the whole of Vanuatu is looking at EGS. 2018 was a year full of disasters for Vanuatu football with the U16’s and U19’s national teams ending their OFC Championship campaigns with both zero points in the group stage.
However, a new year, with new chances. Erakor has broken down the long-time hegemony of first Tafea FC and later Amicale FC. This is Erakor’s third Champions League in a row and after going out in the group stage two times they now have their eyes set on making their village Erakor and Vanuatu proud.
As a preparation, EGS played two friendly matches against New Caledonian’s Magenta FC who will play in group D. The results were fine, a 2-0 victory and a 1-1 draw.
When we look at the squad Erakor has three import players from Brazil: Diego Galvao, Elias and Da Silva. The first two played in the Champions League for Amicale FC in previous editions. In goal, Serge Daniel is the number one with young Daniel August, who played one game during the 2017 U20 World Cup, behind him. At the back, they have a lot of choices with Jacques Wanemut, Jason Thomas, Jason Botleng and the left backs Jesse Kalopang and Remy Kalsrap. Kalsrap had a long absence but he is finally back. Jason Thomas has experience in New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and Cambodia.
In midfield, we have Thomas’ mate Jacky Ruben who was with him in New Zealand, and who played in China this year. Besides him, coach Benjamin Noel has a lot of choices on the midfield with Raoul Coulon, Barry Mansale, Kalfter Kaltack, Jacksson Tasso, Gershom Kalsong, Nemani Roqara and Johnathan Spokeyjack. Notable is that most of their players are just in their early 20’s, so the future of Erakor GS and Vanuatu looks bright. Two of the midfielders, Johnathan Spokeyjack and Godine Tenene played in the 2017 U20 World Cup.
Up front there are the Brazilians Da Silva and Elias mentioned earlier, but also experienced Bernard Daniel is in the squad, as well as Tony Kaltack. Tony, who is together with his younger brother Kalfter a member of the famous Kaltack-football-dynasty, has just returned from Rewa FC. He is, at just 22, a guarantee for goals.
Expected position: 2nd
Experienced player: Diego Galvao
Player to watch: Jacky Ruben
Talent to watch: Godine Tenene (1998) & Johnathan Spokeyjack (1998)
The reigning champions are back for another go at the title. But their form in the ISPS Handa Premiership has not been exactly champion material. Only two out of their last six matches have been won and they lost to Canterbury in their final match before leaving for Port Vila.
Nonetheless, this Wellington side should have more than enough qualities to navigate a group that could still give them a few surprises. We saw it last year in Honiara when they managed to claw a late draw against Marist, but when the knockout stages started they were 100% tuned in and didn’t let anyone stop them on their way to their first ever continental title.
Looking at their squad it’s packed with experience from previous campaigns and they have bolstered with an exciting New Zealand talent returning from Europe in Henry Cameron. The loss of Mario Barcia and Justin Gulley could prove vital in the latter stages but shouldn’t affect the team too much in the group stage.
Up top, it’s Hamish Watson who’s the one to bang in the goals while Jack-Henry Sinclair could have a big tournament, keep an eye on the young Kiwi.
Expected position: 1st
Experienced player: Aaron Clapham
Player to watch: Hamish Watson
Talent to watch: Jack-Henry Sinclair (1998)
We have seen Kiwi FC play already this season in the Qualification round. They managed to get a second-place witch guaranteed them the second spot of the group, but it wasn’t easy at all. Kiwi lost the first game against the host and the number one team in the group, Tupapa Maraerenga (4-1) who will play in Group D. In their second game against Pago Youth from American Samoa they managed to win very narrowly by just four goals to three against the all-time underdogs. On the final day, they needed a victory against Tongan’s Lotoha’apai United who won by five goals to one against Pago Youth. In the end, they managed to an easy 9-1 victory against a very unorganised Tongan side.
The biggest problems in the games were in defence, which will be the biggest area of concern for Coach Martin Tamasese. If they don’t manage to organise their defence better, there will be some heavy score lines on the horizon, even Pago Youth managed to score three goals against them. Kiwi will need to play a little different than they did in the Qualifiers, with a very defensive line-up, like for example 5-3-2 looking the most obvious.
Up front, they will hope on whims from Paulo Scanlan, Kenneth Kerewi and Silao Malo. Their biggest task will be that they keep the ball with them. Kiwi’s main target is to perform better than PNG’s Morobe Wawens in Group A, who ended on zero points (zero goals scored, 19 against). If Kiwi manages to perform better, they maybe can guarantee a spot in the Group Stage in next year’s OFC Champions League edition.
When we take a look at the lineup, we see in goal 17-year old Pele Eti Fatu, who has experienced in the OFC-program in New Zealand. At the back, there will be an important role for import Federico Diaz as well as 18-year old Kitiona Nauer who was very good at the wing-back in the Qualifiers. Coach Tamasese has also Setefano and Sale available in defence, and maybe if Kiwi will play with five defenders there will be a spot for 16-year old’s Tavita To’ and Eli Satuala. In midfield, there will be an instrumental role for oldies Lionel Taylor and Kenneth Kerewi who will need to keep the balance. Furthermore, Tamasese has the availability of the Malo brothers and Fijian import Janardhan Goswami.
Up front, there will be a lonely role for Paulo Scanlan, who at 22 is one of the strongest players in this squad. If he can get some help from a speedy youngster like Falaniko Nanumea or Timote Halahingano Kiwi can maybe make a surprise happening.
Expected position: 4th
Experienced player: Kenneth Kerewi
Player to watch: Paulo Scanlan
Talent to watch: Kitiona Nauer (2000)