The OFC Champions League Group Stage is five weeks away and we focus on Vanuatu champions Tafea FC as they chase a return to the final they last graced in 2001.
When you mention Vanuatu football it is not too difficult to recall the exploits of club side Tafea FC. The All Reds from Port Vila enjoyed a sustained period of domestic dominance that saw them rack up 14 titles in a row during the 1990s and early 2000s.
But since they first entered Oceania’s top regional tournament in 1999, they saw their stranglehold on domestic football broken by the emergence of local rivals Amicale.
Amicale has appeared in the last three editions of the competition but now Tafea are back in the OFC Champions League after being crowded Vanuatu champions in 2013.
And Tafea are no fresh-faced novices at this level with seven appearances since their first qualification in 1999.
Tafea’s best performance remains a final played in 2001 against then Australian National Soccer League champions Wollongong Wolves in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Despite the 1-0 loss in final, Tafea set a new benchmark for clubs all over Oceania to follow and perhaps enhance their own dreams of one day appearing at the FIFA Club World Cup like Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United did in 2010.
Tafea’s road to the final started when they topped their group to qualify for the semi-finals where they outplayed New Zealand representatives Napier City Rovers is a six-goal thriller, beating the Kiwis 4-2.
The All Reds had to wait five long years before their next shot at the Oceania crown, halted by a rampant Hyundai A-League outfit and ultimate winners Sydney FC.
There was some consolation for the Vanuatu club after they finished the competition with a third place following a 3-1 victory over Tahiti’s AS Pirae.
The Tafea club not only has a long and illustrious history in the OFC Champions League but can point to three top quality players who have helped enhance that reputation.
Moise Poida, Etienne Mermer and Jean Nako Naprapol guided Tafea to a famous win over AS Pirae and became firm fixtures in the Vanuatu national team as a result.
Poida, Mermer and Naprapol remain the most effective players for Tafea in the OFC Champions League, the three players notching nine goals in 39 OFC Champions League appearances dating back to 2005.
If Tafea hope to emulate their famous sides of the past they’ll have to edge beyond a difficult group that contains one former champion in Hekari United and two other clubs who have also graced an OFC Champions League final in New Caledonia’s AS Magenta and host club Ba.
Tafea and Hekari United will open the 2014 OFC Champions League on April 7 before taking on Ba on April 10, then AS Magenta on April 13.
All Tafea’s matches kick-off at 1pm local Fiji time.