Navy Blues eye title defence

Words: ACFC Media

Friday 10 May 2024

PAPEETE, Tahiti - Reigning Oceania champions Auckland City FC will kick off their title defence against Group A rivals Rewa FC on the opening Match Day of the 2024 OFC Champions League on Sunday morning (NZST) in French Polynesia. 

The Navy Blues have arrived in Papeete in search of a record-extending 12th title, after dominating the region’s premier club football competition for the best part of two decades.

Last year, Albert Riera’a charges had to dig deep  to avoid elimination in the semi-finals in Port Vila before edging past hosts Ifira Blackbird FC on penalties, followed by another hard-fought extra time victory over Fiji’s Suva FC in the title decider.

And the Navy Blues head coach is well aware of the challenges his payers are facing to defend their   continental crown.

“We prepare ourselves to win. We were in Vanuatu not long ago and we know the obstacles and setbacks that you have to face, that’s going to happen again. 

“Many tough situations, good moments and hopefully we can have another good competition. 

“Of course there is a new FIFA tournament, the Intercontinental Cup at the end of the year for the winner of the Champions League,” Riera said.

Over the past couple of years Auckland City have forged a thrilling rivalry with Wellington Olympic AFC on the New Zealand domestic stage, losing the National League Grand Final to the men from the capital at the end of the last season.

The two sides faced each other again in a closely contested  New Zealand National Playoff over two legs in March, with City winning 1-0 at Kiwitea Street before staging a spirited comeback from 3-1 down to draw the second leg 3-3 at Martin Luckie Park in Wellington and claim their spot in the 2024 OFC Men’s Champions League, 4-3 on aggregate.

The Navy Blues in Group A will face Rewa FC from Fiji, Papua New Guinea champions Hekari United, and the Solomon Warriors from Solomon Islands, with the top two sides in each group advancing to the semi-finals.

“I know these teams well and we all know what they bring to the party as players in a different context, different weather, different characteristics, qualities that we don’t usually encounter in New Zealand and that changed a little bit our preparation.

“Sometimes, we focus a lot on fast counters against very fast players or 1v1 defending, that brings something different during the preparation when we’re in the islands. So those teams, they’re very dangerous, very good especially in the islands,” Riera explained.

The Navy Blues have only faced Rewa FC on one previous occasion, defeating the Fijian outfit 3-0 with goals from Cam Howieson, Mario Ilich and Gerard Garriga during the group stage of the 2022 OFC Champions League. 

Rewa have qualified for the OFC Champions League by overcoming Fijian Premier League champion Lautoka in their National Playoff.

Lautoka went into the two-legged contest as firm favourites, having won the Premier League by a convincing seven point margin. 

The first leg at Rewa’s home ground in Suva finished goalless, before the experienced  Setareki Hughes made the difference in the second leg to hand a dramatic 3-2 victory for Rewa and seal their spot in Tahiti.

Head Coach Rodeck Singh acknowledges his side will have to raise their game to a new level if they are to be competitive in Papeete.

“The OFC Champions League is a special tournament played by quality players, who fight hard throughout the season to get their teams to qualify and get the opportunity to compete with top teams in Oceania,” Singh said.

Player to Watch

Setareki Hughes will be crucial for Rewa’s chances in Tahiti. He represented Fiji at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2015 and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, as well as being capped at senior level thirty-six times.

A disciplined and dedicated individual, Hughes has captained Rewa on a number of occasions and is a regular contributor of goals.

Watch the Navy Blues Group A clash against Rewa FC live and free HERE courtesy of FIFA+

MATCH DETAILS
OFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP A - MD1
Sunday  12 May 2024
Rewa FC v. Auckland City FC
Stade Paea, Papeete, Tahiti 
Kick-off: 10.00 am NZST

AC OCL SQUAD: 1-Conor TRACEY (GK), 3- Adam MITCHELL, 4-Christian GRAY, 7-Cam HOWIESON (c), 8-Gerard GARRIGA. 9-Angus KILKOLLY, 10-Dylan MANICKUM, 11-Ryan DE VRIES, 12- Regont MURATI, 13-Nathan LOBO, 16-Joe  LEE, 19-Liam GILLION, 21- Adam BELL, 22-Tong ZHO, 23- Alfie ROGERS, 24-Joe WALLIS (GK), 25- Michael DEN HEIJER, 27-Stipe UKICH.

COACH: Albert RIERA
ASSISTANT COACH: Ivan VICELICH
GK COACH: Enaut ZUBIKARAI
TECHNICAL: Adria CASALS
TECHNICAL: Jarrod WALLACE
LOGISTICS: Colin COOK
LOGISTICS: Rob HAYTER
PHYSIO: Matt PAYNE

OFC CHAMPS LEAGUE

Fri 17 May 2024, Stade Paea, Tahiti, 3pm local

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3 BU9711231022
4 ES9603181118
5 AU9504181115
6 BO9504191815
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9 WR912612245
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12 HW902712292

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