|AUCKLAND City once again proved their dominance in Oceania’s premier international club competition with a 2-0 victory over AS Tefana at Kiwitea Street seeing them through to their seventh OFC Champions League final in-a-row.
“I’m 100 per cent pleased,” Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx said at the final whistle.
“We’ve done it again, we’re in a final and it’s a pleasure to lead the team to the last game – or last two games – of the season.
“We’re very happy with the outcome.”
Happy with the outcome, but it was no easy path for the Navy Blues with their Tahitian opponents keen to overturn the two-goal loss on their own home soil a week earlier.
Directly from kick-off Tefana pressed high, putting pressure on the backline and Auckland City keeper Enaut Zubikarai.
Within the first five minutes Angel Berlanga was forced to put the ball out before Marko Dordevic had to close down a threatening advance into the City box from Stanley Atani.
Some great goalkeeping from Zubikarai combined with the defence prowess of Berlanga, Dordevic and Mario Bilen kept Tefana at bay despite the pressure coming from the Tahitians for the first 20 minutes.
Auckland City started to find their rhythm at that point, playing the patient football they’re renowned for. It paid off just after the half-hour mark as Emiliano Tade pounced on a poorly taken goal kick to open the scoring in the 33rd minute.
The second half proved tense as Tefana upped the physicality factor. A challenge from Heimano Bourebare on Daewook Kim caused a stir amongst both sides, especially when the Tahitian midfielder walked away with just a yellow card.
Auckland City kept their heads however and in the 64th minute Joao Moreira put on a stunning show, making a solo run into the Tefana box and slotting past Stevens Hiriga to take his side to 2-0.
Tefana started to fall apart at this point and as the half moved into additional time Viritua Tiaiho picked up his second caution and took an early shower. Two minutes later as Moreira made another lone run on goal, Hiriga brought him down and saw his match end early too.
Temarii Tinorua pulled on the keeper’s jersey and gloves as Moreira lined up the penalty and couldn’t help celebrating as the Portuguese striker hit the upright from the spot, despite his side losing the encounter 2-0.
Tefana coach Sebastian Labayen was in two minds about the final result.
“I’m disappointed in the sense that we’ve lost the match and won’t be going through to the final,” he said.
“But I’m satisfied, or consoled, by the performance produced by the players today.”
Labayen said the first half was definitely his side’s chance to overturn the first leg results and they were unfortunate they couldn’t get the finishing right on this occasion.
“We were consistent in the first half. We were able to impose our game for periods but I have to congratulate Auckland because they were realistic. They performed as they should in front of goal and although they had less chances than us, were able to score two goals.”
While they’re savouring the victory over the two legs that saw them take a 4-0 aggregate, Tribulietx acknowledges that Tefana were a tough opponent.
“I think the game today was very physical, very difficult to play and in some stages it got a bit rough in my view,” he said.
“But that’s life, we survived and we got away with a win so we’re happy with it.”
Auckland City FC will now face Team Wellington in the OFC Champions League final for the third year in a row, although the games will be home-and-away for the first time.