Words: ACFC Media
Thursday 4 August 2022
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Hienghène Sport status as OFC Champions League title holders makes Auckland City FC the underdogs for their Group B opener on Friday, according to Navy Blues coach Albert Riera.
The 38-year-old Barcelona-born former City midfielder believes the New Caledonians have the recent experience at regional and international level to make others in the competition sit up and take notice.
Hienghène Sport won the OFC Champions League in 2019 after they defeated fellow New Caledonians AS Magenta 1-0 in the final in Noumea three years ago.
Coached by Félix Tagawa, Hienghène Sport played Qatar's Al-Saad at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2019 and pushed their opponents all the way before losing 3-1 in extra-time.
Covid-19 saw two editions of the OFC Champions League cancelled with Auckland City FC nominated to represent OFC at the Club World Cup but difficulties in obtaining Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) saw City withdraw.
The Kiwitea Street-based club continued to be competitive in domestic football during a period of restructure, change that meant the end of the 17-year-old New Zealand Football Championship and a revert to regional competition instead.
MATCH PREVIEW - City underdogs for Hienghène clash - Riera#NavyBlues coach Albert Riera says his team are underdogs when they face former Oceania champions Hienghène Sport on Friday - find out why below— Auckland City FC (@AucklandCity_FC) August 4, 2022
Like most things in life these days, it's difficult to predict the outcome of Friday's opening game between Auckland City FC and Hienghène Sport but Riera is adamant which team he believes faces the tougher task of the two - his.
"We're very excited to start the OFC Champions League, its a very special tournament, I've been very lucky to be part of it as a player before.
"Before we came out to train tonight I took the players through some slides and showed them the last time we made the final and managed to win it was in 2017," he said.
Riera is right - it's been five years since Auckland City FC last won the OFC Champions League.
Since then there have been two painful semi-final defeats for City and the subsequent cancellations of the 2020 and 2021 competitions.
Team Wellington, no longer operating, lost their last OFC Champions League semi-final to AS Magenta in 2019, at a time when New Caledonian football was about to peak.
This season, Auckland City FC have gone 24 games unbeaten in the Northern League (20 games) and Chatham Cup (four games) but its thought to be an unreliable measure for what is to come at Ngahue Reserve this week.
This, combined with Hienghène Sport's achievements in recent seasons, suggests Riera believes the New Caledonians may have added pressure to contend with as overdogs.
"It's been a long, long time since we made the final and since then we've lost twice in the semi-finals, once to Team Wellington and then to AS Magenta.
"But the team that currently holds the trophy is Hienghène Sport.
"We have to be very, very respectful of Hienghène Sport because in reality we are the underdogs.
"Hienghène Sport are the ones who are holding the current title.
"We have to know and understand that these are the facts in front of us," he added.
A cursory glance at the Hienghène Sport squad suggests they will be tough competitors.
Goalkeeper Rocky Nyikeine, 39-year-old Bertrand Kai - a former OFC Player of the Year - are key players in a team that has won three New Caledonia Super Ligue titles in six years.
They qualified for this year's event after winning a two legged playoff with Ne Drehu 4-3 on aggregate with Kai scoring twice in the 2-1 win at Stade Numa Daly on June 6.
Winning the OFC Champions League gives the winning club the possibility of a berth at the next FIFA Club World Cup, thought to be scheduled for February 2023.
Although a regular feature of the FIFA International Calendar between 2005 and 2019, determining host nations and tournament schedule has become more difficult in recent times.
It is thought while the pandemic has played a part in that uncertainty, the possibility of an expanded FIFA Club World Cup that features 24 clubs mooted in late 2019, and the advent of Super League in Europe, and elsewhere, is also a consideration.
Whatever the future holds for the OFC Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup formats of the future, Riera is determined to get another key message across to his players.
"I addressed our players this week and I want them to understand how important this tournament is to our club, the team and New Zealand football.
"I think we showed we understand the situation with the way we trained this week which was spot on and hopefully we see that this Friday," Riera told www.aucklandcityfc.com.
The only player missing from Riera's consideration is Angus Kilkolly who injured his knee in a 5-3 away win over Birkenhead United in the Northern League on July 13, 2022.
Kilkolly is back up and running and could be considered for a return to action soon.
The match with Hienghène Sport kicks off at 12.00pm NZDT on Friday 5 August 2022.
The game is live streamed at this link.
OFC Champions League
Auckland City FC v Hienghène Sport
Friday 5 August 2022
Ngahue Reserve, Stonefields, Auckland
Kick-off: 12.00pm NZDT
AC:1. Conor TRACEY (GK), 2Mario ILICH, 3. Adam MITCHELL, 4. Christian GRAY, 5. Angel BERLANGA, 6. Matt ELLIS, 7. Cam HOWIESON, 8. Gerard GARRIGA, 9. William ENG, 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 11. Ryan DE VRIES, 12. Sam BROTHERTON, 13. Nathan LOBO, 14. Jordan VALE, 15. Aidan CAREY, 16. Joe LEE, 17. Reid DRAKE, 18. Finn DOCKERTY (GK), 19. Liam GILLION, 20. Emiliano TADE, 21. Ilham HAMEEDI, 23. Alfie ROGERS, 24. Cam BROWN (GK).
COACH: Albert RIERA
ASSISTANT COACH: Ivan VICELICH
GOALKEEPER COACH: Enaut ZUBIKARAI
MANAGER: Keith COTON
ANALYST: Adria CASALS
TRAINER: Alejo LEGUIZAMON
TECHNICAL: Jarrod WALLACE
PHYSIO: Matt PAYNE
AUCKLAND CITY FC'S OFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RECORD v NEW CALEDONIA CLUBS
21.01.07 v AS Mont Dore (A) won 2-0 (Paul Urlovic 2)
23.02.08 v AS Mont Dore (H) won 4-0 (Bryan Little 2, Grant Young 2)
08.11.09 v AS Magenta (H) won 2-1 (Matt Williams, Daniel Koprivcic)
06.03.10 v AS Magenta (A) drew 1-1 (Daniel Koprivcic)
23.10.10 v AS Magenta (H) won 3-0 (David Mulligan, Daniel Koprivcic, Adam McGeorge)
21.02.11 v AS Magenta (A) won 1-0 (Manel Exposito)
30.03.12 v AS Mont Dore (A) won 2-0 (Gustavo Souto, Adam Dickinson)
12.04.12 v AS Mont Dore (H) won 12-2 (Mario Bilen 2, Gustavo Souto, Chris Bale, Darren White, Adam Dickinson 3, Albert Riera, Manel Exposito 3)
21.04.15 v FCN Gaitcha (N) won 1-0 Marko Dordevic)
24.02.19 v AS Magenta (N) won 2-1 (Dan Morgan, Micah Lea'alafa)
28.04.19 v AS Magenta (A) lost 1-2 (Micah Lea'alafa) - OFC Champions League Semi Final
MILESTONES (AUCKLAND CITY FC)
Alfie Rogers next appearance for Auckland City FC will be his 100th game for the club in all competitions. He has scored 5 goals.
Auckland City FC has played 91 games in the OFC Champions League to date with Friday's game their 92nd.
The club has won 66, drawn 16 and lost 9 games, scored 270 goals and conceded 65.
Auckland City FC has played New Caledonia club opposition 11 times previously and won 9, drawn one and lost one.
Friday's game with Hienghene Sport will be the first time the two clubs have met at any level.
HEAD COACH - Felix TAGAWA
A former Tahitian international striker who played 22 games and scored 14 goals for his country has found a football home on the other side of the Pacific with Hienghène Sport and New Caledonia. The 46-year old played in Australia's defunct National Soccer League with Brisbane Strikers in 2003. He also played for Tahiti's AS Venus and AS Dragon but has coached Hienghène Sport for the past nine years winning three league titles, four New Caledonia Cups and the OFC Champions League in 2019.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Bertrand KAI
He may have just passed his 39th birthday in June of this year, but Bertrand Kai remains a clinical goalscorer of immense talent in Oceania. 43 international caps with New Caledonia and 23 goals to go with it, Kai won OFC Player of the Year in 2011, the OFC Champions League Golden Boot in 2019, and has won New Caledonia Super Ligue titles with both Hienghène Sport and AS Magenta. At international level, Kai was a key player in his nation's gold medal finish at the Pacific Games Men's Football Tournament in 2011.
HIENGHENE SPORT SQUAD: 1. Rocky NYIKEINE (GK), 2. Joris GORENDIAWE, 3. William YENTAO, 4. Bruno HYANEM, 6. Cedrick SANSOT, 8. Shafi MANDAOUE, 9. Jefferson DAHITE, 10. Miguel KAYARA, 11. Bertrand KAI, 12. Antoine ROINE, 14. Dann DJAIWE, 15. Clifton KANVA, 16. Rayan OUE, 18. Kevin TEIN, 20. Jean-Claude IHILY, 25. Jean-Luc DECOIRE, 29. Fonzy RANCHAIN, 30. Ivanoe BAMY, 31. Christopher YEIWENE (GK), 32. Jean-Baptiste CAROINE, 33. Rodrigue DAHITE, 34. Jacques NYIKEINE (GK), 36. Norbert BOUANOU.
RECENT FORM - SUPER LIGUE
16.04.22 v Ne Drehu (H) lost 0-2
23.04.22 v Kunie (H) won 2-0
30.04.22 v Qanono (H) won 3-2
07.05.22 v AS Mont Dore (A) won 1-0
14.05.22 v AS Magenta (H) lost 1-3
21.05.22 v Lossi (H) won 2-1
28.05.22 v Horizon Patho (H) won 3-1
11.06.22 v Wetr (H) won 2-1
18.06.22 v Tiga Sport (H) won 2-1
25.06.22 v JS Baco (H) won 6-2
02.07.22 v Dumbea (H) won 6-0
09.07.22 v Ne Drehu (A) won 2-1
16.07.22 v Kunie (A) won 4-2
RECENT FORM - OFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 2022 - QUALIFIERS
04.06.22 v Ne Drehu (A) drew 2-2 (Emile BEarune, Joseph Athale)
06.06.22 v Ne Drehu (H) won 2-1 (Bertrand Kai 2)
FIFA Club World Cup 2020 participants
OFC Champions League winners 2019
New Caledonia Super Ligue winners 2017, 2019, 2021
New Caledonia Cup winners 2013, 2015, 2019, 2020
Sunday 4 December 2022, Wellington Olympic, Mount Smart Stadium