By: Vincent van der Put and Ola Bjerkevoll
Group D is set to be hosted in Honiara and in this preview, Football in Oceania gives you all you need to know about AS Magenta, Auckland City, Solomon Warriors and Tupapa Maraerenga.
Of course, AS Magenta are in the OFC Champions League. Since their first league trophy in this century in 2003, AS Magenta has developed into the most successful club in New Caledonia and winning 11 titles in 17 years. The New Caledonian league system is a little different compared to the other countries in the region, the participation this year is a direct result from coming second in 2017.
The 2018 league has also already been played with Magenta winning with 13 points ahead of number two Hienghène Sport, which ensures that Magenta has already qualified for the 2020 OFC Champions League as well. Last year’s Champions League was a bit disappointing, finishing third in the group stage behind later winners Team Wellington and Marist FC from the Solomon Islands.
This year they will travel to the Solomon Islands to face the almighty Auckland City FC and their Melanesian counterparts, the Solomon Warriors. It will be a battle against the Warriors for a second spot behind Auckland City. Something that will be difficult for AS Magenta, but which is definitely not an impossible task. If they can handle the intensity and pressure of Lawson Tama Stadium, everything is possible. AS Magenta’s build-up to this tournament wasn’t great though, with a defeat and a draw against Erakor Golden Star who are playing in Group C.
When we look at AS Magenta’s squad, they have all the experience that they need to survive this group. Number one will be Steeve Ixoee who at 30 years old is at the top of his career. At the back, all the players have been born after 1991, but still have some experience with Jean Christ Wajoka, Jean Brice Wadriako and Gaetan Gope-Iwate, who have all played for the national team. Especially Gope-Iwate is a player to watch. At 20-years-old he has already played four games for the national team.
In midfield, the player to watch is Shene Welepane, a 21-year old creative attacking midfielder who will be supported by Iler Hnauk and Didier Simane who has played in France and Italy. Up front coach Alain Moizan has a lot of options with Emile Ounei, Richard Sele, Kevin Nemia, Nathanael Hmaen and Leon Wahnawe.
So, if Moizan can make sure that the forwards will get the ball, then goals will be guaranteed. The program will not be easy for Magenta as they will kick-off this Saturday against Auckland City followed by, what seems to be, the decisive game on matchday two against the Solomon Warriors. Magenta will close their group stage matches against the Cook Islanders Tupapa Maraerenga.
Expected position: 3rd
Experienced player: Richard Sele
Player to watch: Shene Welepane
Talent to watch (born in 1998 or later): Gaetan Gope-Iwate (1998)
The Real Madrid of Oceania are back to try to take their crown off the head of Team Wellington, who bested them in the OCL for the very first time when they sent them out in the semi-final last year. Will they be able to bring the title back to Auckland?
They certainly still have a strong squad and have added that with “local” Oceania talent in the shape of PNG’s David Browne and the Cook Islands Maro Bonsu-Maro, who both have skills to play up top.
It’s mostly the same names you’ve seen before. The Spanish Conquistadors are still here, Enaut Zubikarai, Angel Berlanga and Albert Riera provide plenty of experience. The man with the longest name this side of the equator, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, is still in the squad and should be a great asset in midfield. So should his fellow Kiwi Cameron Howieson.
Further up the pitch, in addition to the already mentioned Browne and Bonsu-Maro, Auckland have Solomon Islands star Michah Lea’alafa to rely on to provide goals. A surprise inclusion in the squad is Darren White, who had retired and taken up commentating on TV, before being called up as an emergency just ahead of the OCL.
Expected position: 1st
Experienced player: Enaut Zubikarai
Player to watch: Micah Lea’alafa
Talent to watch: Jackson Woods (2001)
After the success story of debutants and their fellow countrymen of the Henderson Eels, the Solomon Warriors are eager to repeat the story of coming through the group stage. It would be a little light in a dark tunnel for the Solomon Islands after the biggest disaster in the football history of the country: the exclusion of the U-17 team for the World Cup in Peru after the OFC found out that Chris Satu was born before 1 January 2002.
In the national league, Solomon Warriors fought out a tight contest with the Henderson Eels and they only became first on goal difference. It is the fourth time the Warriors participate in the OFC Champions League. After two years were they did not make it out of the Group Stage (2013 and 2014), last year they made it to the quarter-final before being defeated 2-0 by Auckland City, a team that they will meet again this year in the Group Stage.
Auckland City are obviously the big favourites for topping the group, but the Solomon Warriors should be able to come second in front of an always seething Lawson Tama Stadium. The biggest danger will be AS Magenta, the team that they will meet on the second day, with the first game against Tupapa Maraerenga from the Cook Islands being a must-win.
When we look at the squad the Warriors have a lot of experienced and internationals. In goal 23-year old Philip Mango will be the number one. Despite his quite young age, he has already a bunch of experience on both club and international level. In defence, much will depend on the liability of Haddis Aengari together with wing backs Emmanuel Poila and Robert Laua. The back four will most likely be completed with Fred Fakari or Allen Peter. Though the only talent in this squad, 18-year old Aengari Gagame will be definitely hoping for some game time.
In midfield coach Moses Toata has a lot of choices with the likes of Vanuatuan import John Alick, Molea Tigi, Judd Molea and Atkin Kaua. 22-year-old Kaua has played club football in New Zealand and was vital last year in the Champions League campaign of Marist FC.
Up front, we see the only other import, also from Vanuatu, Kensi Tangis who was top scorer of the Telekom S-League last season. He will be supported by Jerry Donga and the skilful Alwin Hou, who scored in August again Macau and who has played on the World Cup Futsal in 2016.
Expected position: 2nd
Experienced player: Haddis Aengari
Player to watch: Kensi Tangis
Talent to watch: Aengari Gagame (2000)
To write a review about Tupapa Maraerenga is probably the most difficult. Of course, we have seen them play in the Qualification Stage where they managed to top the group quite easily with three victories out of three games against Kiwi (4-1), Lotoha’apai United (4-1) and against Pago Youth (2-1). In those games, we saw that Tupapa was much better organised than the other three teams. But the big question is if they can show that organisation on a bigger stage, in front of a wild Lawson Tama stadium.
For Tupapa, who managed to reach the Group Stage last year as well, their organisation is their biggest strength in a squad that sees a lot of Cook Islands internationals and a few imports from New Zealand, most of them New Zealanders with some Cook Island blood in them. I
n goal head coach Delaney Yaqona has the availability of Tahiri Elikana, who at 30-years-old is at the top of his career. He will be the number one choice in goal with 17-year-old Manaariki Pierre behind him, who everybody in the Cook Islands knows that he will be their number one national goalkeeper in the near future.
In defence, there is a lot of experience mixed with some youth with captain Mii Joseph, Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri, New Zealand talent Ben Mata and 18-year old Willynn Karika who played one game in the Qualifiers.
Yaqona has a lot of midfielders available who will be fighting for the few spots. Grover Harmon has a guarantee to play in that midfield, most likely together with Anthony Samuela, Pachok Abba and George Konusi. 17-year old midfielder Lee Harmon played in all three games in the Qualifiers so he will be looking for some game time. Besides that, he has gained experienced already in last year’s OFC Champions League. Tupapa came last with zero points in a group with Nalkutan from Vanuatu, Ba from Fiji and Toti City Dwellers from Papua New Guinea.
Up front we have some familiar names, if you follow the Cook Islands football a bit, with the likes of speedy winger Harlem Simiona, Ishaq Mohammed, Fijian Fauzul Ahmed and Kiwi Jared Colligan. Keep a close eye on Harlem Simiona, if Tupapa Maraerenga can cause a shocking result then he will definitely be involved.
Tupapa will start their group stage campaign in the Solomon Islands against the host, followed with a difficult game against Auckland City from New Zealand. Their final match will be against AS Magenta from New Caledonia.
Expected position: 4th
Experienced player: Mii Joseph
Player to watch: Harlem Simiona
Talent to watch: Lee Harmon (2001)