The 2011 O-League kicks off this weekend with some intriguing match-ups for fans to enjoy across the Pacific.Group A contenders Hekari United and Koloale will be eager to get their campaigns off to a good start at home to Amicale FC and Lautoka respectively while New Zealand sides Auckland City and Waitakere United will be looking to do the same in Group B when they entertain AS Magenta and AS Tefana.
Defending champions Hekari will fancy their chances of picking up three points against Vanuatu side Amicale, who are new to the competition and would have wished for an easier start to life in the O-League. Hekari became the first Pacific team from outside New Zealand or Australia to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup with their upset win over Waitakere United in the previous campaign's final and will be out to prove that was no fluke.
The Papua New Guineans are favourites to win the group and have been boosted by the signing of star midfielder Henry Fa'arodo, who has joined from Solomon Island side Koloale. But, despite being new to this competition, Amicale have enough experience and talent themselves to cause an upset.
The squad includes a group of Solomon Islanders, several of whom have played at a high level, such as Batram Suri, futsal international Jack Wetney, Stanley Waita and Alick Maemae.
Amicale have almost enough Solomon players to be that country's O-League representative but that honour instead falls to Koloale, who come up against a cosmopolitan Lautoka side.
Koloale's most high-profile player is Benjamin Totori, who has returned to the Solomons and his home city after a successful spell in New Zealand with Manawatu and Waitakere United. Coach Peter Eke was also keen to strengthen at the other end of the field and has done that with the signings of George Suri and Samson Takayama. Both are Solomon Islands internationals and Suri in particular brings with him plenty of top-class experience, having previously played for both Auckland and Waitakere in New Zealand.
Fijian side Lautoka have also cast the recruitment net far and wide, signing up four Nigerians, five Australians and one Solomon Islander.
Much will be expected of forward Kamal Hassan, who skippered Fiji at the OFC Futsal Championship in August and has also starred for the nation's beach soccer side, while national U-20 rep Akuila Mataisuva is another to watch.
Auckland and New Caledonian side Magenta kick off the Group B action at Kiwitea St on Saturday, while Waitakere meet Tahiti's Tefana at Fred Taylor Park on Sunday.
City have a new coaching team of Aaron McFarland and Ramon Tribulietx at the helm and have pulled off a major coup with the signing of All White midfielder David Mulligan. Former Scottish professional Stuart Kelly, once on the books of Glasgow Rangers, free-scoring striker Luis Corrales and New Zealand age-group international Phil Edginton are also shrewd signings.
The side has lost a lot of experience though - Chad Coombes is pursuing a professional career in England while Keryn Jordan, Ki-Hyung Lee, Greg Uhlmann, Paul Urlovic and Grant Young have all retired.
Waitakere will be desperate to regain the O-League title after losing it to Hekari last season but have also seen several key players head out the exit door, including the pacey Totori and former All White Brent Fisher. Chris Bale returns to the club after a spell with Team Wellington while winger Luiz Del Monte and striker Mike Gwyther have also been signed by player-coach Neil Emblen, who has been one of Waitakere's best performers in recent years but is unlikely to strap on the boots as often this season.