High stakes for Champions League Qualifier hopefuls
All eyes will be on the Cook Islands when four determined rivals put everything on the line to grab the two remaining qualifying places on offer for the 2019 OFC Champions League Group Stage, as the Qualifier tournament gets underway at the CIFA Academy on Saturday local, (Sunday Samoa time).
Local favourites Tupapa Maraerenga FC will host American Samoa’s Pago Youth, Samoan champions Kiwi FC and Tongan representatives Lotoha’apai United FC in a keenly contested competition to decide which two sides will join the 14 already qualified teams in the main draw for the region’s premier club football competition.
Hometown expectations will be high when Tupapa Maraerenga FC face fierce rivals Kiwi FC in the second game on the opening day.
These two sides last met in 2016 in the same competition and the same venue with Kiwi FC edging past their hosts 2-1.
Tupapa Maraerenga coach Delaney Yaqona is hoping this time around his players will be better equipped to handle the pressure placed on them as the host team.
“It’s always additional pressure performing at home and in recent history we hosted the tournament at home and we went in a favourable position by winning the first match and then lost in second match and finished second.
“That was really disappointing but we know the expectation of everyone this time around and this is something we have prepared much better this time,” he insisted.
Yaqona is also adamant his side is well aware of the threat posed by their Samoan opponent.
“It’s a big game on Saturday and Kiwi FC is our biggest rival traditionally in this tournament.
“We have met so many times in the qualifiers and we understand they are much stronger side this year with some of their imports,” he added.
His counterpart Martin Tamasese is also expecting a tough encounter.
“We played Tupapa side three years ago and I know they are good team and also prepared well for the tournament.
“It a big challenge for us to play the host team in our opening match because first match is always tough but we have our plans to face them up,” said the former Samoan national representative.
2019 OFC Champions League Qualifier
Tupapa Maraerenga [TUP] vs. Kiwi FC [KIW]
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Saturday 26 Jan local (Sunday 27 Jan Samoa)
Kick-off: 17:30 local
Referee: Peter LINNEY (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Edward COOK (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2:Marc SINYEUE (NCL)
Fourth Official: Veer SINGH (FIJ)
Tupapa Maraerenga FC
Team List: 1. Tahiri ELIKANA (GK), 2 Mili JOSEPH, 3. Willynn KARIKA, 4. Tyrell BARRINGER-TAHIRI, 5. Ishaq NAZEEM, 6. Anthony SAMUELA, 7. Harlem SIMIONA, 8. Edward BROGAN, 9. Geoffrey STRICKLAND, 10. Grover HARMON, 11. Fauzul AHMED, 12. Pachok ABBA, 13. George KONUSI, 14. Pekay EDWARDS, 16. Ben MATA, 17. Lee HARMON, 18. Jared COLLIGAN, 20. Manaariki PIERRE (GK)
Coach: Delaney YAQONA (FIJ)
Team List: 1. Eti FATU (GK), 3. FEDERICO DIAZ, 4. Ken KEREWI, 5. Kitiona NAUER, 6. Andrew SETEFANO, 7. Jarell SALE, 9. Samuelo MALO, 10. Paul SCANLAN, 11. Falaniko NANUMEA, 12. Timote FONI, 13. Lionel TAYLOR, 14. Lafi IOANE, 15. Lotial MANO, 16. Silao MALO, 17. Tavita TO’O, 18. Janardhan GOSWAMI, 19. Ansheil KUMAR, 21. Semu FAIMATA (GK)
Coach: Martin TAMASESE (SAM)