The 12th edition of the OFC Champions League is just four weeks away and www.oceaniafootball.com reflects on the first two editions of Oceania’s flagship competition in the first of four features focussing on this annual football event.
1999 Oceania Club Championship – Fiji
It’s perhaps fitting that in April of 2014 the OFC Champions League group stage makes a return to Churchill Park in Lautoka, the venue where the first Oceania club competition were sown 15 years ago.
Like the 2014 edition, the inaugural Oceania Club Championship was scheduled to be held in two venues with Lautoka and Nadi sharing the match schedule during a balmy September in 1999.
Nine clubs were convened representing nine countries with only Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea’s club champions absent.
New Caledonia, not an OFC full member until 2005, did not participate.
Clear favourites for the title were Australian giants South Melbourne.
Led by All Whites striker Vaughan Coveney, the full-time professional outfit had just romped to back-to-back Australian national league titles under coach Ange Postecoglu.
Postecoglu, a former captain of South Melbourne and four-times capped Socceroo, had his playing career cut short and was determined to see his club win the first tournament and qualify for the FIFA World Club Championship to be staged in Brazil the following year.
Pushing the Australians closely would be host club Nadi, New Zealand National Club Champions Central United, AS Venus of Tahiti – one of French Polynesia’s most storied clubs and Vanuatu’s all-conquering Tafea, in the midst of a 14-in-a-row run of domestic titles.
Split into three groups of three teams each, South Melbourne found themselves tucked away in Group A alongside Malaita Eagles of the Solomon Islands and rank outsiders from American Samoa, Konica FC.
After a bruising 2-1 win over Malaita, South Melbourne brushed aside Konica in a lopsided 10-0 win with Malaita tipped out despite a 14-2 thrashing of the American Samoan side two days earlier.
Host club Nadi drew its opening match with AS Venus 1-1 a result that left both chasing the goals in their final games with Kiwi FC of Samoa.
With the group winners advancing to the semi-finals along with the best placed runner-up, there was all to play for.
Nadi swept aside Kiwi FC 13-0 only for AS Venus to rack up a 14-1 win, a margin that was enough to see them top the group.
Nadi snuck through to the last four after Tafea – placed in Group C with Central United and Loto’ahapai of Tonga – were outgunned by the New Zealanders.
Tafea’s 10-0 win was outdone by Central who knocked the Tongan champions over 16-0.
In a thrilling climax to the group, Central United and Tafea fought out a 2-2 draw, a result that eliminated the team from Port Vila.
Curiously, the first semi-final matched Nadi with Central United with a Marika Mamaqa free-kick on 36 minutes handing the Fijians a 1-0 win and spot in the final.
But the game was marred by ill-feeling on and off the pitch as Prince Charles Park became a cauldron of intensity.
It is a match up that captures the imagination with Auckland City paired together with Nadi in the 2014 OFC Champions League group stage nearly 15 years after the two clubs first met under their previous guises.
In the other semi-final South Melbourne had problems of their own.
A stubborn AS Venus played a tight match frustrating the Australians until Vaughan Coveney broke the deadlock on 38 minutes. Liporati doubled the advantage six minutes later and Socceroo Paul Trimboli capped off a 3-0 win with a goal 14 minutes from the end.
The stage was set for Nadi to take on the red-hot favourites South Melbourne at Prince Charles Park in front of a sell-out crowd of 10,000.
In a one-sided match, the Postecoglu-led South Melbourne raced into a 2-0 halftime lead with goals by David Clarkson and Steve Isoifidis.
Michael Curcjia, Vaughan Coveney and Steve Panopoulas added three more before Nadi grabbed a consolation strike courtesy of Watisoni Voli.
South Melbourne represented Oceania at the FIFA World Club Championship drawn in a group with Manchester United (0-2), Vasco de Gama (0-2) and Necaxa (1-3).
WINNERS: South Melbourne (Australia)
RUNNERS-UP: Nadi (Fiji)
2001 Oceania Club Championship – Papua New Guinea
Lloyd Robson Stadium in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, hosted the 2001 edition with 11 clubs in attendance, in January of that year.
Wollongong Wolves emerged from Group A notching 38 unanswered goals, with Napier City Rovers – New Zealand’s champion club – squeezing past a tough challenge from Laugu United from the Solomon Islands on goal difference.
Labasa and Unitech – the host club – were off the pace with inconsistent displays.
Loto’ahapai finished bottom of the group winless.
While Group A proceeded as expected, Group B was marred by controversy.
American Samoa side PanSA fielded players who were ineligible, an administrative mistake that meant all of PanSA’s matches were awarded to their opponents 2-0.
The impact was far-reaching at least from PanSA’s perspective.
Opening the tournament with a shock 1-1 upset draw with Tahiti’s AS Venus, PanSA looked set to challenge for the top spots.
AS Venus benefited the most from the decision to axe PanSA’s result with nearest challengers Titavi from Samoa cut three points adrift in third place.
Tupapa Maraerenga – making their tournament bow – only finished above PanSA by virtue of the decision related to ineligible players, despite PanSA thumping the Cook Islands champions 4-0.
PanSA’s final two matches remained unplayed once it became clear their squad did not meet the competition regulations.
As that quiet controversy continued, Tafea piled on the goals and the points , scoring four wins from four matches, scoring 22 times and conceding just once.
AS Venus – the only club from the previous edition to return to the semi-finals – left their dash late falling behind 3-0 to Wollongong Wolves in a first half salvo by Saso Petrovski, Jay Lucas and Scott Chipperfield. The Tahitians rallied with late goals by Djmali and Izal but a second by Lucas confirmed the Australians place in the final after a 4-2 win.
It was a similar scoreline in the other semi-final but this time it was Tafea handing out the punishment as they knocked over Napier City Rovers of New Zealand. Level at the break 1-1, an Etienne Mermer goal tipped the favour in balance of Tafea on the hour mark.
Two further goals two minutes from time by Iwai and Haitong gave Tafea a 4-1 lead before Rupert Ryan pulled one back on the fulltime whistle.
In a tight final, Wollongong Wolves prevailed when Socceroo Scott Chipperfield scored the winning goal on 62 minutes to hand the Australians a 1-0 win and secure passage to the FIFA World Club Championship in Spain.
Little did anyone suspect but the second edition of FIFA’s fledgling competition would later be cancelled, the event going into a six year hiatus, the next OFC club event following closely behind, not reappearing on the international calendar until 2005.
WINNERS: Wollongong Wolves (AUS)
RUNNERS-UP: Tafea (VAN)