The OFC Champions League qualifying stage is set to commence this weekend, on 17th February, in Apia, Samoa. Four teams from across the Pacific will participate in this tournament, including Veitongo FC from Tonga, Tupapa Maraerenga from Cook Islands, Ilaoa & To’omata from American Samoa, and the hosts of Samoa Lupe o le Soaga. The teams will face each other in a round-robin format, and the winner of the group will proceed to the OFC Champions League group stage.
The tournament promises to be an exciting affair, with each team bringing its unique set of skills and talents to the table. Veitongo FC from Tonga is a team with a lot of experience and has a good track record in domestic competitions. They will be looking to carry their domestic form into this tournament and make it to the group stage. The team coached by Timote Moleni will rely on mostly in the attacking force of its star striker Hemaloto Polovili. Veitongo, that will count on many young players, will also have the addition of Tuia Falepapalangi to its team – another Tongan national players will be available such as Sione Tu’ifangaloka, Vai Lutu and the veteran Kamaliele Papani.
Tupapa Maraerenga from the Cook Islands is another team that cannot be taken lightly – with a record of taking part of various Champions League editions. Grover Harmon, the president and midfielder of Tupapa, is one of the most celebrated players from Cook Islands and is a highlight for current Cook Islands’ champions. Avi Enoka might be one of the defensive pillars for Tupapa in the tournament.
Ilaoa & To’omata from American Samoa is a relatively unknown team, but they cannot be underestimated. Recently, the American Samoan teams could not do that well in the OFC tournaments, but this is the first time the team will be participating in the competition and can bring something new for the tournament. Only five of the squad members of Ilaoa & To’omata have already played before in international tournaments.
Finally, the hosts of Samoa Lupe o le Soaga will have the advantage of playing on home soil, and the support of the local fans could prove to be a crucial factor in their performances. Lupe will count on the former Hekari United player Andrew Setefano – Vaa Taualai and Michael Tumua Leo are other important players of the squad. Lupe o le Soaga will also bring three foreign players for the tournament: the New Zealand-based striker Jamie Mason, that played previously for Lupe in an OFC Champions League edition, and the also New Zealander Harisson Bolton-Roberts, a defender. The English striker Jason Cunniff will also represent the Samoan side in the competition. The current Samoan champions already achieved an important milestone in the regional tournament, when they made history for their country as they won Ba from Fiji, the first ever win in the OFC Champions League for a team coming from Samoa.
The tournament will be a great opportunity for the teams to test their skills against each other and showcase their talents. The winner of the group will proceed to the OFC Champions League group stage, where they will face off against some of the best teams in the Pacific.
The qualifying stage of the OFC Champions League is going to be played for the first time since 2020 – when COVID-19 major hit in Oceania started. It will be interesting to see which team will emerge as the winner and earn a place in the group stage of the tournament.