Auckland City have set up an all-New Zealand semi-final in the OFC Champions League after defeating Solomon Warriors 2-0 in a hard-fought quarterfinal at Auckland’s Kiwitea Street on Sunday.
Goals to Emiliano Tade in the 20th minute and Micah Lea’alafa 12 minutes into the second spell were enough to see off a spirited challenge from the Solomon Island champions who tested the home side at times, especially in the first half.
The win means nine-time Oceania club champions Auckland will reprise their rivalry with Team Wellington over two legs on the weekends of April 20/21 (Wellington) and April 27/28 (Auckland) for a place in the final.
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx believed his side had done enough to recover from the mental exploits of winning a domestic title last week and secure progression against a team he respects.
“It was going to be tough because of a number of things. Coming back from last week the mental side of things might not have been at the best and maybe the energy levels weren’t as high but we tried to play a good game in the circumstances and we competed well.
“We played a very good team – Solomon Warriors have some very difficult players to cope with in transition. When we try to keep the ball that’s when some of these teams can hurt you on the counter. And they had two or three very good chance to be fair to them. They’re a very good side and we’re very happy with the result.”
He said the club would quickly refocus on what will be a repeat of the last three OFC Champions League finals.
“It’s a different format. A one-off game like this can be very dangerous. It’s a 180 minute semi-final which makes things a little different. We know them very well and they know us very well. We’ll look to recover then prepare for a very tough semi-final.”
Solomon Warriors coach Moses Toata was initially blunt in his assessment.
“The difference today was they scored two goals and we didn’t,” he said.
“It comes down to how we create our opportunities. We didn’t create enough today and we lacked the support play, especially in the attacking third.
“We created some good chances especially in the first half. We could’ve scored a couple and I thought there was a handball as well. But it didn’t come our way.”
After a cagey opening, Tade found himself through on goal and slotted the ball past Abraham Bird to notch his 18th Champions League goal and edge closer to the competition’s all-time leader Benjamin Totori who sits on 23 and plays tonight for Lautoka in Papeete in the final match-up in the last eight.
After some half chances for the visitors, Jerry Donga wriggled his way through the Auckland defence, combining with Kensi Tangis before drawing a one-on-one save from Eńaut Zubikarai to keep the scores level. There were plaintiff cries for a penalty in the movement with Solomon Warriors players claiming unsuccessfully the save had struck the arm of Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi in the flurry of action.
A few minutes before the hour mark, Cam Howieson picked out the run of Lea’alafa in the middle of the penalty are for the Solomon Islands international todouble the lead against his compatriots.
Auckland’s game management then came to the fore for the remainder of the encounter although John Alick did bring the best out of Zubikarai with a blistering shot that was bound for the top corner in their best chance of the second half.
The OFC Champions League quarterfinals wrap up tonight in Tahiti where AS Dragon host Fiji’s Lautoka FC for the right to play Marist FC from the Solomon Islands in the other semi-final.