Group A winners Amicale will host Group B counterparts Auckland City at PVL Stadium and, if each side’s record in front of goal is anything to go by, there will be plenty of action to cheer. Amicale and Auckland are tied at the top of the scoring charts with 12 strikes each from their six group matches and the Vanuatu team also have Golden Boot leader Fenedy Masauvakalo, who has accounted for half of his side’s goals, in their ranks.
The City front line includes the likes of their leading scorer and New Zealand futsal squad member Daniel Koprivcic, Spanish import Manel Exposito, who was once on the books of Catalan giants Barcelona, and former domestic Golden Boot winner Luis Corrales.
There is every reason for them to try to find the net as much as possible and give their team an upper hand going into the second leg, to be held at Auckland’s Kiwitea St ground two weeks later. A hefty carrot is dangling in front of the sides in the form of a place at December’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, which brings with it a US$500,000 pay cheque.
Auckland City qualified for the prestigious tournament with their last O-League win in 2009 – and performed heroically to finish fifth in the United Arab Emirates – but this is unchartered territory for Amicale, who have never competed in a final of this magnitude, let alone taken part in a FIFA event.
How coach William Malas and his players respond to that pressure at a packed PVL Stadium will go a long way to deciding the result in the first leg, as will the performance of local hero Masauvakalo and Solomon Islands stars Jack Wetney and Stanley Waita. In a big blow to Amicale’s chances, former Auckland City player Alick Maemae has been left out of the squad and will not be lining up against his former club.
Striker Masauvakalo has teamed up with Maemae and Amicale’s other Solomon Islanders – of which there are eight in the 18-man squad for Saturday’s match – to devastating effect as Amicale have made history by becoming the first Vanuatu team to qualify for an O-League final since the competition was launched in 2007.
But it is not just in the final third that the Reds have excelled. They also have the second-best defensive record in the competition and have only conceded more than one goal in a match once – a dramatic 3-3 draw against defending champions Hekari United in round four.
Auckland are likely to find it tough to get a result in the first leg as Amicale have not lost in their own backyard, winning two and drawing one of their three home matches.
City have been in strong form domestically and co-coach Ramon Tribulietx, who takes the side with Aaron McFarland, says his players are in confident mood but remain wary of Amicale’s attacking threat.
“We know it is going to be tough but are feeling positive,” Tribulietx says. “We are aware of their strengths and they have proven themselves to be one of the best teams in the O-League. The are the type of side that can kill you at any time by breaking through to score.”
The Spanish-born coach says it will be vital to begin well in the two-legged final and bring a good result back to Kiwitea St.
“It is basically a 180-minute game so the first leg is very important. It is possible to come back if you lose but that will make it so much harder in the second leg,” he says.
City need only to look across town to rivals Waitakere United for a perfect example of that. United won the second leg of last year’s final 2-1 against Hekari but that wasn’t enough to overturn a 3-0 deficit from the first leg and resulted in a 4-2 aggregate loss.
“I was not surprised about that and it can happen again,” Tribulietx says.
Opposing coach Malas holds City in high regard and knows his troops must make the most of getting home advantage first.
“We have a lot of respect for Auckland because they have so many good players,” Malas says. “But we have prepared well and are ready to face them. We have been training hard for the last few days and I am sure that our boys will give them a good run. Our aim is to play well in front of what will be a very big crowd.”
The second leg takes place at Kiwitea St on Sunday 17 April at 2pm local time. The winner of the two-legged final will go on to represent Oceania at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011.
2011 O-LEAGUE 1ST LEG FINAL PREVIEW
Amicale [VAN] vs. Auckland City [NZL]
Saturday 2 April
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Local kick-off: 3pm
Referee: Bertrand BILLON [NCL]
Assistant referee 1: Matthew TARO [SOL]
Assistant referee 2: Ravinesh KUMAR [FIJ]
Fourth Official: Andrew ACHARI [FIJ]
Amicale: 1. Ernest BONG [GK], 3. Young PAUL, 4. Selwyn SESE ALA, 6. Nelson SALE, 7. Jean-Robert YELOU, 8. Jerry SHEM, 9. Dereck MALAS, 10. Batram SURI, 11. Fenedy MASAUVAKALO, 13. Gibson DAUDAU, 14. Moffat DERAMOA, 15. Alphonse BONGNAIM, 16. Mostyn SANGA, 18. Richard GARAE, 19. Jack WETNEY, 20. Joel NAKAPUE [GK], 25. Stanley WAITA, 31. Edika MAETA
Coach: William MALAS
Auckland City: 1. Jacob SPOONLEY [GK], 2. Angel BERLANGA, 3. Ian HOGG, 4. Sam CAMPBELL, 6. Stuart KELLY, 7. James PRITCHETT, 8. David MULLIGAN, 9. Manel EXPOSITO, 10. Luis CORRALES, 11. Daniel KOPRIVCIC, 12. Liam LITTLE [GK], 13. Alex FENERIDIS, 14. Adam DICKINSON, 15. Ivan VICELICH, 16. Albert VIDAL, 20. Riki VAN STEEDEN, 22. Andrew MILNE, 23. Adam THOMAS
Coaches: Aaron McFARLAND and Ramon TRIBULIETX