Into the unknown as trio debut

Group D of the OFC Champions League kicks-off today in Papeete, Tahiti with three sides – Rewa, Marist and Erakor Golden Star – set to make their first appearances in the region’s premier international club competition alongside old hats and hosts AS Tefana.

The matches are being held at Stade Pater, recent host to the final of the OFC U-17 Championship, with the action getting under way on Saturday 11 March local time (12 March NZT).

In the late match, Vanuatu club champions Erakor Golden Star will take on the might of AS Tefana, a side whose experience makes them strong favourites to top the group.

However, the Vanuatu side led by former international Etienne Mermer is rife with talented individuals who have come together well domestically to develop into a force to be reckoned with.

“As with every team there are some big players, some players that are in the national team and Erakor is the same,” Mermer explained.

“It’s a young side, but also one which has some experienced players including several Kaltaks, who we hope will be good for the team in this level of competition.”   Erakor have been in Tahiti for a week now and getting used to the hot and humid conditions has been a priority for the side.

“I think it was a great idea to come a week early and prepare in the conditions for this competition,” Mermer said.

“It’s difficult to adapt to but we will be ready for Tefana tomorrow.”

Tefana’s assistant coach and former professional footballer Pascal Vahirua said his side, and football fans in Tahiti, are excited to be welcoming the three Champions League newcomers to Tahiti.

“Before anything I would like to wish a warm welcome to the delegations who have given us the honour of coming here to French Polynesia,” he said.

Vahirua outlined the side’s objective is to win, but also to provide opportunities for their players to advance their football careers.

“We haven’t called in any foreign reinforcements,” he said.

“That’s for financial reasons but also because we are thinking about our players and our belief in them.   “We wish to see more Tahitians go on to have international careers, and to see that the level of Polynesian football can progress.”

Vital Statistics: The side features five members of the extended Kaltak family including Kaltfer, who appeared in the 2016 OFC U-20 Championship in Port Vila last year.

The Players: Jason Thomas was outstanding at the centre of defence for the Vanuatu U-20 squad when they qualified for their first FIFA tournament late last year. With Brian Kaltack alongside him at the centre of defence, Erakor has themselves the makings of a very strong backline.

Coach Quote: “Tefana has had a lot more opportunities in this competition than the three other teams but we need to stay calm, player our game and make sure our players are prepared mentally and physically, that they know the game plan, our tactics. From there we will see what happens when we play our first match against Tefana – the group favourites.”

Erakor Golden Star: 1. Serge DANIEL (GK), 2. Brian KALTACK, 3. Michel KALTAK, 4. Jacques WANEMUT, 5. Jason THOMAS, 6. Jesse KALOPONG, 7. Robert TOUKOUNE, 8. Kaltfer KALTAK, 9. Anderson TAKAU, 10. Kalserei ARSEN, 11. Nemani ROQARA, 12. Gershom KALSONG, 13. Lucien HINGE, 14. Jean KALTAK, 15. Tonly KALOTANG, 16. Bernard DANIEL, 17. Jacky RUBEN, 18. Barry MANSALE, 19. Tony KALTACK, 20. Johnny KALORUS, 22. Chikau MANSALE Coach: Etienne MERMER (VAN)

AS Tefana [TAH] Vital Statistics: The club made their first OFC Champions League appearance in 2011 and a year later made their way to the final where they narrowly lost to Auckland City FC. This year’s edition marks their fifth OFC Champions League campaign.

The Players: Jonathan, Alvin and Lorenzo Tehau are always consistent for both club and country. In general this is an experienced side and the Tehau trio could well be the difference when it comes to scoring the goals they’ll need to top the group.

Assistant Coach Quote: “We have been patient but now is our time. On the field the truth will be revealed and that is where we must play to win.”

AS Tefana: 1. Stevens HIRIGA (GK), 2. Farearii TUTEINA, 3. Taumihau TIATIA, 4. Tehevarii LUDIVION, 5. Viritua TIAIHO, 6. Tunoa TEVAERAI, 7. Temarii TINORUA, 8. Jess HOROI, 9. Tehina TEMORERE, 10. Tautua LUCAS, 11. Sylvain GRAGLIA, 12. Alvin TEHAU, 13. Stanley ATANI, 14. Jonathan TEHAU, 15. Jean Claude CHANG KOEI CHANG, 16. Manutea TAAE, 18. Kaena ONUU, 19. Heimano BOUREBARE, 22. Nicolas VALLAR, 23. Moana PITO (GK), 25. Toriki GUYOT, 29. Mikael ROCHE (GK), 30. Lorenzo TEHAU

Coach: Sébastian LABAYEN (TAH) Assistant Coach: Pascal VAHIRUA (TAH)