Defending champions Auckland City FC have illustrated their title credentials with a clinical 3-1 win over Suva FC in their second Group A match at the OFC Champions League 2023 in Vanuatu. (Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek).
Both sides entered the match at Luganville’s Soccer City Stadium with three points after opening day victories and Suva coach Maxwell Thaggard picked arguably his strongest line-up in a bid to upset the defending champions.
But playing their 100th OFC Champions League match, Auckland City stepped up a level from their win over the Solomon Warriors on Saturday and constantly had the Suva defence under pressure.
They scored three clinical goals to ease into next week’s semi-finals and allow coach Albert Riera to rest key players in Saturday’s final Group match against Lupe Ole Soaga SC.
For Suva FC they face a virtual quarter-final against the Solomon Warriors on Saturday with both teams level on three points.
A draw would be enough for the Fijian side to progress as they have a superior goal difference.
Suva FC had a chance right from the kick-off winning possession deep in Auckland City FC’s half but striker Alex Saniel’s shot went wide.
But Auckland City quickly found their groove, with Adam Mitchell and Angus Kilkolly both squandering early chances.
Azariah Soromon brought a good save out of Auckland City keeper Connor Tracey after 10 minutes when his looping shot forced the goalkeeper to tip the ball over the bar.
But three minutes later the defending champions were ahead. Liam Gillion surged towards the 18 yard box, ghosted past a Suva FC defender and rifled the ball past a despairing Akuila Mateisuva in goal.
Dylan Manickum was put through on goal in the 26th minute but his low shot brought out a good save from the keeper.
Spanish import Gerrard Garriga, player of the match in the opening win over the Solomon Warriors, then scored a quite brilliant goal. He controlled a ball played over the top superbly and calmly slotted the ball past a hapless Mateisuva to double the lead in the 33rd minute.
Suva’s best chance of the half came through Soromon five minutes later when he forced a good save from Tracey with a powerful header that was parried past the post.
The Fijian side came within a whisker of pulling a goal back a minute in to the second half when Soromon’s shot, which was heading for the top right hand corner of the goal, was tipped wide by a diving Tracey.
But any hopes for Suva of mounting a dramatic comeback were snaffled out in the 54th minute when Gillion scored his second with a powerful left foot strike from the edge of the box.
Suva FC refused to throw in the towel and were rewarded when Alex Saniel pounced on a stray pass to fire a bullet past Tracey in the in the 65th minute in what must be a contender for goal of the tournament so far.
Suva nearly cut the deficit to one 10 minutes from full-time when substitute Rusiate Matarerega rifled a shot against the outside of the left hand post.
By now the atmosphere among the more than 4000 strong crowd was electric and it was end to end action in the final stanza with both sides creating chances but unable to add to their tallies.
Earlier the Solomon Warriors kept their semi-final hopes alive with a 3-1 win over Lupe Ole Soaga who will have just pride to play for in their final Group match against Auckland City.
Auckland City FC 3 (Liam GILLION 14’ 55’, Gerard GARRIGA 33’)
Suva FC 1 (Alex SANIEL)
Solomon Warriors 3 ( Dennis IFUNAOA 15’ 67’, Harrison MALA 36’)
Lupe Ole Soaga 1 (Jefta SIBA 63’ )