Defending champions Auckland City are gunning for their sixth title in a row – and a record eighth in total – while Team Wellington are aiming for their maiden crown after coming so close in last year’s final.
The 2015 title decider went down to wire with the two sides still deadlocked after extra-time. The Navy Blues held their nerve to edge past their rivals in a tense penalty shoot-out to earn passage to the FIFA Club World Cup.
This year’s final promises to be another keenly contested encounter especially after Team Wellington’s heroics to snatch the New Zealand title at the expense of Auckland City last month.
Both sides’ road to the final has been relatively comfortable.
Auckland City topped Group A with victories over Lae City Dwellers, Solomon Warriors and Amicale before beating AS Tefana 4-2 in to book their place in the final.
The Navy Blues’ big game experience at Champions League level is a significant advantage but Ramon Tribulietx insists his players are under enormous pressure to defend their title year after year.
“With success the expectations are also growing and it doesn’t get any easier,” he says.
“Experience counts for something but we also have a lot of young players. The nerves will be there for all of us on the day.”
The Catalan coach believes this year’s title decider is far too close to call.
“Wellington is team that is well put together. In my opinion they are very direct they are happy to sit back and defend but they are also dangerous on the counter. They have players like Tom Jackson, Luis Corrales and Ben Harris who suit that style of play. It will be a tough match.”
Meanwhile the New Zealand champions’ campaign looked perhaps a little less convincing.
The men from the capital were made to work hard for their wins against Suva FA and AS Lössi before hitting their straps to ease past Hekari United in the top-of-the table Group B decider.
While the 4-0 win over the 2010 Champions was a big confidence booster, Matt Calcott’s side produced another battling performance to edge past Magenta with a nervy 2-0 win in the semi-final.
Admittedly Wellington were missing the services of a couple of key players including suspended captain Bill Robertson and prolific striker Ben Harris who is nursing a leg injury.
Calcott will be pleased to have Robertson back but he admits Harris is still in doubt for the final.
“Ben Harris has been fantastic for us but he has a bad leg injury. The physios are working hard on his fitness. It will go down to the wire,” Calcott says.
“Nevertheless, we proved in the semi that we have a good depth and in this team everybody contributes.”
The Team Wellington boss is confident his side will be competitive.
“Auckland City are the benchmark of Oceania football but we have proved over the past 12 months that we are not too far behind.
“Ideally we’ll have a full strength squad for Saturday, but if not, we showed it in the semi that we have plenty of depth and everybody in this team can make a valuable contribution.
The OFC would like to acknowledge its sponsors iRENA, Telikom PNG, Konika Minolta, Tranzit Coachlines, Frucor and UNICEF.
Auckland City FC vs. Team Wellington
Auckland, New Zealand
Saturday, 23 April, 2016
Referee: Averii JACQUES (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Tevita MAKASINI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: Ravinesh KUMAR (FIJ)
Fourth Official: Médéric LACOUR (NCL)
Auckland City FC
The players:Stepping into the large boots of Ivan Vicelich is no mean feat but youngster Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi makes it look easy. Playing with the cool, calm collectedness of a veteran twice his age, Hudson-Wihongi has a huge influence over the pace and direction of the game and will play a key role in this encounter. Joao Moreira missed his side’s semi-final win due to suspension but he is set for a return in the title decider. The 30-year-old Portuguese striker has been in great form during the group stages with five goals from three matches to put himself firmly in frame for the golden boot
The vital statistics: Auckland City hold an impressive head-to-head record against Team Wellington with 18 wins, just seven losses and five draws. However, in their last meeting six weeks ago Team Wellington came out on top. Auckland City have enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball in all four of their games so far and that trend is likely to continue in the final. The attacking threat of the Navy Blues can be demonstrated by the 78 shots they have amassed and the 28 shots which have been on target. Ramon Tribulietx’s men have averaged three goals per game, while only conceding four times at the back.
Coach Quote: “Every final is tough, this one won’t be any different. Wellington are a very strong, physical team especially in midfield and at the back. They have a lot of speed up front and also quick full-backs. We like to hold the ball so it will be a clash of styles and hopefully an entertaining match for the spectators.”
Squad list:1. Jacob SPOONLEY (GK), 2. Marko DORDEVIC, 3. Takuya IWATA 4. Mario BILEN, 5. Angel BERLANGA 6. Jesse EDGE, 7. Reid DRAKE, 8. Michael DEN HEIJER, 9. Darren WHITE, 10. Ryan DE VRIES, 11. Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 12. Nicolai BERRY, 13. Alfred ROGERS, 14. Clayton LEWIS, 15. Ivan VICELICH, 16. Daewook KIM, 17. Joao MOREIRA, 18. Danyon DRAKE (GK), 19. Micah LEA’ALFA, 20. Emiliano TADE, 22. Andrew MILNE, 24. Diego RIVAS (GK), 25. Fabrizio TAVANO
Coach: Ramon Tribulietx (ESP)
The players: The return of captain Bill Roberston from suspension is a massive boost to Team Wellington’s chances. The 31-year old defender has been commanding in defence and dangerous going forward. Goalkeeper Scott Basalaj has been in impressive form and is a commanding presence across every corner of his area. Leo Villa offers plenty of threat from set pieces and Tom Jackson has proven his ability to find the target.
The vital statistics: Matt Calcott’s men had only 42 per cent of possession against Magenta in their semi and they are likely to be without the ball for long periods when they face Auckland CityThe New Zealand champions have significantly improved their accuracy in the second part of their campaign. While only managing to score four goals from 24 shots on target in their opening two matches, the side converted a third of their shots on target to score a combined six goals against Hekari United and Magenta.
Coach Quote: “We know them well and expect much the same from them. It’s no secret that they will play their usual possession based game. They have quality all over the park but we won’t be intimidated. We are determined to do one better than last year and finish a very enjoyable tournament on a high.”
Squad list: 1. Scott BASALAJ (GK), 2. Taylor HOUGH, 3. Steven GULLEY, 4. Anthony HOBBS, 5. Bill ROBERTSON, 6. Chris BALE, 7. Leo VILLA, 8. Cole PEVERLEY, 9. Tom JACKSON, 10. Luis CORRALES, 11. Mario BARCIA, 12. Andy BEVIN, 13. Alex FENERIDIS, 14. William SCOTT, 15. Mark JONES, 16. Ben HARRIS, 17. Fergus NEIL, 18. Saul HALPIN, 19. Conor McGLINCHEY, 20. Michael GWYTHER, 21. Taylor SCHRIJVERS, 22. Alex CARR, 23. Michael O’KEEFFE (GK)
Coach: Matt CALCOTT (NZL)