The Kiwis triumphed over the Francophones in the semi-finals of the OFC Champions League at QBE Stadium this afternoon, defending champions Auckland City and Team Wellington both booking spots in the final after wins over Tahitian and New Caledonian opposition respectively.
Most of the goal-mouth action took place in the day’s opening game, Auckland keeping their hopes of a sixth consecutive title alive with a 4-2 victory over AS Tefana. The second match was a far tenser affair, AS Magenta shading the possession but struggling to get their noses in front before Wellington broke their hearts with a pair of quick-fire late goals to win 2-0.
Auckland and Wellington will now meet in Saturday’s OFC Champions League final for the second straight year with the capital men looking to repeat their feats of the ASB Premiership, a trophy they lifted at the expense of the Navy Blues.
City will get the chance to make sure that doesn’t happen again after a first-half goal blitz against Tefana, Micah Lea’alafa and Clayton Lewis both scoring doubles to put them 4-1 ahead at the break.
Solomon Islands international Lea’alafa wasted little time in getting on the scoresheet, receiving a short corner from Darren White before firing inside the near post in just the seventh minute.
But Auckland’s early lead lasted only a few momen’s as Tefana equalised on ten minutes, Tauhiti Keck heading home a left-wing cross from Temarii Tinorua.
Any hopes the Tahitians would go on to record an upset were soon dashed though when Lewis and Lea’alafa struck twice in quick succession to give Auckland a two-goal lead. The duo combined to put their side in front on 23 minutes, a stinging low shot from young All Whit’s midfielder Lewis hitting the post for Lea’alafa to show good skill in tucking away the rebound.
Lewis went from provider to scorer two minutes later when his looping free kick missed all his team mates and sailed past Tefana goalkeeper Mikael Roche for 3-1.
It was always going to be a tough ask for Tefana to claw their way back from that point against such accomplished opposition and it got even harder just before the half-time whistle, Lewis sealing his brace with a spectacular curled effort from long range in the 44th minute.
Without suspended danger man Joao Moreira, Auckland failed to add to their advantage in the second period but it mattered little as they closed out the game in typically composed manner.
Tefana did threaten to launch a late comeback when Takuya Iwata was deemed to have handled inside the box and Tinorua converted from the spot in the 86th minute. But there was to be no dramatic ending as the Navy Blues went on to make sure of their now-customary place in the final.
“It was a very difficult game and we were lucky that we went in front early on,” coach Ramon Tribulietx said.
“They’re a good team and managed to threaten us a few times. These games have a lot of tension and we felt that but we’re very happy to be in another final.”
Tefana’s Sebastian Labayen was disappointed with the result but believed his charges had much to be proud of after their efforts at the tournament.
“We are satisfied with a large part of this journey because it has shown that our players are capable of competing at this level,” he said.
“We have a particular philosophy for football that we’re trying to implement and we have more to do at the higher level but we are working on it.”
The day’s second game followed a much different script, Wellington having to wait until the last quarter of an hour to breach the defence of a Magenta side that had proved a more-than-worthy adversary.
The New Caledonians enjoyed nearly 60 per cent of the possession in a tight first half but it was Wellington who could have taken the lead, Tom Jackson being denied in a one-on-one situation by goalkeeper Jelen Ixoee after a lovely pass from Alex Feneridis.
Magenta had a similar opportunity five minutes later as Jean-Christ Wajoka found himself up against Scott Basalaj but couldn’t beat the Wellington custodian.
That was about as close as either side came in a cagey first half but Wellington again had Basalaj to thank for keeping the scores level soon after the restart. Pierre Wajoka had the goal at his mercy and really should have put his side in front but Basalaj did well to spread himself and block the effort at point-blank range in the 48th minute.
Clear-cut chances continued to prove hard to come by for both sides and the thoughts of those in attendance must have been turning to extra-time as they clock ticked down. But Wellington striker Jackson had other ideas, helping his team put one foot in the final by finding the net twice in as many minutes.
Saul Halpin was upended just inside the box in the 74th and Jackson made no mistake with his penalty, sending Ixoee the wrong way in calm fashion. If the Magenta gloveman could do little to keep out Jackson on that occasion, he will feel he could have done better soon after.
An impressive piece of interplay on the right by Wellington released substitute Luis Corrales and Ixoee came out to deal with the danger but succeeded only in smashing his clearance against the pint-sized attacker, allowing Jackson to pounce on the loose ball and nod into an empty net.
Wellington were missing the services of a pair of key players in captain Bill Robertson and talismanic target man Ben Harris – through suspension and injury respectively – and coach Matt Calcott is looking forward to welcoming them back for the final.
“It probably wasn’t our best performance today but we’re very happy,” he said.
“There were some pretty tired bodies out there but we’ve got some fresh ones coming in so it was great to get through against a very good Magenta side.”
Magenta counterpart Alain Moizan felt the result was harsh on his side.
“It always hurts to lose a match and this one seems even harder to take,” he said.
“The score of 2-0 seems somewhat unjust but in sport justice is one thing and the reality is another.”
Domestic rivals Auckland City and Team Wellington will now fight it out for a berth at the FIFA Club World Cup in the OFC Champions League final, set to take place on Saturday 23 April at QBE Stadium in Auckland from 2pm.
Images: OFC is providing images of all 2016 OFC Champions League matches for editorial use only. Please credit OFC via Phototek. Today’s matches can be downloaded here: AKLvTEF or WELvMAG.
The OFC would like to acknowledge its sponsors iRENA, Telikom PNG, Konika Minolta, Tranzit Coachlines, Frucor and UNICEF.
Source: OFC Media