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NEW ZEALAND FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP – CRUNCH TIME FOR PLAYOFF HOPEFULS

AUCKLAND – In the final week of the NZFC regular season, five teams are still battling for the three remaining top-four playoff spots. Waitakere United are assured of finishing top (and by a record margin) but, in what has become the tightest NZFC playoff race ever, the fate of Auckland City, YoungHeart Manawatu, Team Wellington, Hawke’s Bay United, and Waikato FC will be decided on a frenetic final day of league action.

Auckland (22 points, +7 goal difference) need just a point against Canterbury to secure a top four spot, but confirming second spot with a win would also give them one hand on New Zealand’s second O-League spot. Canterbury United (8pts -16) may be sitting at the bottom of the table but Korouch Monsef’s young squad already have a win over Auckland this season and have shown an ability to match the best teams in the league so a home win is far from guaranteed.

YoungHeart Manawatu (22 pts, +3) can also nail down their playoff berth with a point, but a visit from the Waitakere United juggernaut only raises the degree-of-difficulty. The fact that Waitakere will back up from a Friday night friendly against the Kuwait national team may just balance the ledger, but Manawatu are walking a tightrope between second and fifth.

Fourth placed Team Wellington (20 pts -3) have made a well-timed late run into the top-four and another home win would not only extend their season into mid-March but could also see them move up to third, thus avoiding Waitakere in the semi-finals. They face a ‘quarterfinal’ against Waikato (19 pts, 0) who must win and have either the Hawke’s Bay or Manawatu result go their way to climb into the top half.

Hawke’s Bay United (19 pts, +5) are within touching distance of a club-first playoff appearance, but it’s not entirely in their own hands when Otago United (8 pts, -14) come to town. An earlier 1pm kick-off (all other fixtures kick-off at 2pm) means even if Hawke’s Bay win at Park Island to complete their part of the mission, thoughts will quickly turn to Newtown Park, Kiwitea Street, and Memorial Park to see if one of the other results goes their way.

Meanwhile, a top of the table clash between Auckland City and Waitakere United at Fred Taylor Park headlines the Lion Foundation Youth League on Saturday, giving Hawke’s Bay United and Auckland-Manukau the chance to make up some ground when they meet at Riverhills on Sunday.

Note: If two or more teams are level on points at the conclusion of the NZFC regular season the following criteria will be applied until the teams can be separated and ranked:

1. Best goal difference

2. Most goals scored

3. Best head-to-head results between the tied teams

4. Best goal difference in head-to-head results between the tied teams

5. Fewest disciplinary points accrued, based on 1 point per yellow card, 3 points per red card (or two yellows).

6. toss of a coin / drawing of lots

How the semi finals work:

The top four teams qualify for home and away semi finals with first playing fourth and second playing third. If results are tied after two legs, then away goals will count double. If there is still no clear winner, extra time (and if needed a penalty shootout) will determine the winner. The two winners progress to the March 29 Grand Final, which will be hosted by the semi-final winner who finished higher in the league.

Playoff schedule:

March 14/15 – Semi Finals Leg One,

NZFC 4 v Waitakere United

NZFC 3 v NZFC 2

March 21/22 – Semi Finals Leg Two,

Waitakere United v NZFC 4, Douglas Field

NZFC 2 v NZFC 3

Sunday March 29, 2.05pm

Grand Final

Story courtesy NZF Media

For the latest NZFC news please go to www.nzfc.co.nz

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