After a long wait in the wings Tupapa Maraerenga of Cook Islands will make their return to the OFC Champions League Group Stage with a difficult first-up challenge against Lae City Dwellers.
These two sides will open this year’s group stage at a new venue for the competition, Korman Stadium in Vanuatu, before host club Nalkutan FC take on Ba of Fiji.
Tupapa have long sought their place alongside the region’s best and captain Mii Joseph is pleased the side finally have a chance to prove themselves.
“Puaikura made history when they qualified last year and now we have a chance to write a story of our own in the history books.
“I believe we have the team to do the job, I have confidence in the squad and what we are capable of.”
Taking on Papua New Guinea club champions Lae City Dwellers will be a true test for the side with one of the most lethal strike partnerships in Oceania – Raymond Gunemba and Nigel Dabinyaba – reunited for this year’s edition.
Between them they have made just under 30 OFC Champions League appearances and scored nine goals with two different clubs.
Gunemba said he’s pleased the successful partnership is back together once again.
“It’s good to have Nigel back for this year’s competition after a successful period playing in Malaysia,” the Lae captain said.
Although they are yet to progress past the group stage, Lae have shown plenty of mettle in their two previous appearances and are pleased that for the first time they won’t have the defending champions Auckland City to deal with so early on.
“Of course it’s nice to experience a group without the pressure of facing Auckland City, but we aren’t underestimating our opponents here by any means,” coach Peter Gunemba said.
“We’ve used the National Soccer League back home to build up to the competition and I’m happy with the development of the boys. We have experience from the past two years and hopefully we should use that when we play.”
Vital Statistics: Tupapa Maraerenga made their first appearance in this competition when it was known as the OFC Club Championship, travelling to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to take part in Group B in 2001.
The Players: A late ring-in, youth international goalkeeper Keegan Inia will have his work cut out for him at senior club level. Fortunately a strong backline led by captain Mii Joseph with the irrepressible Sam Maoate-Cox beside him, will provide some excellent cover.
Coach Quote: “I think this next level we are attempting to reach is within our ability, it’s just about putting it together on the day as sometimes you need a little bit of luck, and a lot of hard work.”
Team List: 1. Keegan INIA (GK), 2. Mii JOSEPH, 3. Sean LATIMER, 4. Teina SAVAGE, 5. Roimata KARIKA, 6. Samuel MAOATE-COX, 7. Campbell BEST, 8. Lee HARMON, 9. Geoffrey STRICKLAND, 10. Grover HARMON, 11. Maro BONSU-MARO, 12. Willyn KARIKA, 13. Packock ABBA, 14. Edward BROGAN, 15. Pekay EDWARDS, 16. Flynn O’Brien, 17. Tyrell BARRINGER-TAHIRI, 18. James HOYT, 19. Anthony SAMUELA, 20. Manaariki PIERRE (GK)
Coach: Alex NAPA [COK]
Lae City Dwellers
Vital Statistics: Two Solomon Islanders, Tutizamo Tanito and Andrew Rarangia, are the only non-Papua New Guinea players in the Lae City Dwellers squad.
The Players: While all eyes will be on the dynamic attacking duo of Nigel Dabinyaba and Raymond Gunemba, the side isn’t lacking in talent in other areas of the park. Emmanuel Simon and Valentine Nelson are both excellent players.
Coach Quote: “My expectation is that firstly, we came here to win so we hope to win the first game and hopefully continue through especially against Ba and Nalkutan.”
Team List: 1. Matheson NASA (GK), 2. Maybon PWESEI, 3. Valentine NELSON, Goropaul ALBERT, 5. Mosie MILUBWA, 6. Troy GUNEMBA, 7. Raymond GUNEMBA, 8. Jacob SABUA, 9. Nigel DABINYABA, 10. Obert BIKA, 11. Adolf KUMISI, 12. Mathew DAVID, 14. Emmanuel SIMON, 15. Ken KEPE, 16. Japhet TIAMPO, 17. Billson BULO, 18. Peter DABINYABA JNR., 19. Makis GELMAL, 20. Ronald WARISAN (GK), 21. Clement WILLIS, 22. Andrew RARANGIA, 24. Tutizama TANITO, 30. Dennis GANNI (GK)
Coach: Peter GUNEMBA [PNG]