You know how it goes, the underdog and all that. The English FA Cup throws up tales galore each year. Here's one from further afield. One minute you're out catching fish, the next you're up against the most decorated club in the world. Yikes! A great story from Nick Robbins.
Football loves throwing up underdog stories. Come early-January England becomes engulfed in the trials and tribulations of plucky losers and the chance for a ‘cupset’. The ‘David v Goliath’ stories live on in the annals of footballing history wherever they occur; Leeds beating Man Utd in last year’s FA Cup, Denmark winning Euro ’92, Wimbledon lifting the FA Cup and, of course – who could forget lowly Liverpool beating West Brom at the start of this Premiership season?
However, arguably the year’s biggest upset was occurring in the Oceania Champions League, when Papua New Guinea’s Petroleum Resources Kutubu Hekari United Football Club took on, and beat, the comparatively mighty – though not nominally, Waitakere United from New Zealand.
The Kiwi team, player/coached by Englishman Neil Emblen, who was once bought for £2million when Crystal Palace were promoted to the Premiership in the 1997/1998 season, were expected to triumph after surpassing the previous year’s OFC champions, Auckland United, in their group. Waitakere were previous champions of the OFC themselves and contained numerous New Zealand internationals. However, a 3-0 thumping at Hekari’s stadium in the first leg of the final left Waitakere in no doubt of the size of their challenge. David had fired his slingshot and caught Goliath square between the eyes. Local hero, Papua New Guinean international and fisherman, Kema Jack, fired home a brace and skilful Soloman Island international Alick Maemae netted from distance to the delight of the 15,000 strong home crowd. Hekari, taking a 3-0 lead into the away leg, held on to an aggregate lead despite losing the match 2-1, Jack again netting in the process.
The result crowned Hekari United as the champions of Oceania and represented the first time that a team from a country other than Australia or New Zealand had lifted the trophy. An historic victory for the Papua New Guinean minnows yet, despite this victory being registered in May, the biggest prize for Hekari will occur 7 months later with their invitation to take part in the FIFA Club Word Championship. For winning the OFC they fly to Abu Dhabi in December to play a qualifying match for the tournament against the victors of the host nation’s league – Al Wahda S.C.C. This play-off match, regardless of the result, will net the Papua New Guinean team $500,000. At the moment they currently stand just two games away from playing the European Champions Internazionale, with their match against Al Wahda S.C.C first and then, if they win, a quarter final against the champions of Asia, Africa or the CONCACAF Champions League winners Pachuca of Mexico.
It is fitting that the first Pacific Island team to be representing Oceania in the FIFA Club World Cup should be a team that is representative of more than the just the Island of their origin. Hekari United comprises players from Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands as well as being coached by Jerry Allen of the Solomon Islands. This achievement, while incredible for Papua New Guinea, is also representative in a shift of standard of football of the Pacific Island nations. Over in Vanuatu, Tafea FC’s dominance of the league was quashed when Amical FC took the title, ending a 16-year consecutive win streak for Tafea, a world record. Disappointingly for Hekari, influential Maemae then secured a transfer to the new Vanuatuan champions leaving them without a player who proved so instrumental in their OFC Champions League win. Ironically, the 2010/2011 OFC Champions league kicks off on October 23rd with Maemae lining up for Amical FC against his old club in the opening fixture of Oceania’s showpiece club tournament.
For a competition that is little more than a jolly abroad for the champions of Europe it is refreshing to see sides for whom the chance to appear in the FIFA Club World Cup is more than just a chance to sun-up in Abu Dhabi. For Hekari United they carry the hopes of Oceania on their shoulders, the chance to represent their country and their entire footballing Confederation. Papua New Guinea currently rest firmly at the bottom of the FIFA ranking table for national teams yet their best club team will be among some of the footballing ‘elite’. Come the 15th December, there is a possibility that fisherman Kema Jack could be strutting his stuff against UEFA Club Player of the Year Diego Milito. Nothing quite does David and Goliath quite like football does it?
Nick writes regularly for IBWM and we insist that you follow him on Twitter @robbinsnick