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Auckland City’s rise to continental supremacy – Part 1

Auckland City FC press conference before their trip to the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup at the UAE (Phototek)

With nine Oceania crowns, including a remarkable run of seven consecutive titles between 2011 and 2017, Auckland City FC have stamped an indelible mark on our region’s football landscape.

The Navy Blues have also achieved global recognition following their heroics at the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup, as they became the first OFC team to reach the semi-finals of the prestigious inter-confederation tournament.

In their third-place playoff match they defeated CONCACAF Champions League winners Cruz Azul on penalties to pick up an historic bronze medal.

To cap this milestone occasion the club’s veteran defender Ivan Vicelich shared the limelight with genuine football royalty after coming third in the Golden Ball award for the best player at the tournament, behind Real Madrid duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos.

Auckland City FC’s journey kicked off in 2004 with the formation of the club that followed the launch of a brand new premier domestic club competition, the New Zealand Football Championship.

They finished the inaugural 2004-05 season as minor premiers before going on to defeat cross-town rivals Waitekere United 3-2 in the title decider courtesy of a brace by Grant Young and another goal by Liam Mulrooney.

However, their maiden continental campaign in 2005 ended in disappointment after missing out on the knockout stages by finishing third in their group behind Australia’s Sydney FC and AS Pirae from Tahiti.

Auckland City’s domestic domination continued in their second season, finishing with another minor premiership and a second NZFC title following a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win against Canterbury United after their grand final encounter ended in a 3-3 deadlock at full-time.

The Navy Blues carried their impressive form into the 2006 regional campaign, finishing top of their group, before brushing aside Fiji’s Nokia Eagles 9-1 to set up a title decider against their Tahitian nemesis AS Pirae at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium.

With a maiden Oceania crown on offer as well as qualification to the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan that provided a guaranteed US$1 million pay day, the stakes were high.

In a tense and closely contested decider Keryn Jordan produced a sensational hat-trick to help his side to a 3-1 victory over the Tahitians and book Auckland’s ticket to their first ever FIFA tournament.

As the only amateur side at the tournament in Tokyo, Auckland City FC lost their opening game 2-0 to African champions, Al Ahly, of Egypt, before losing the fifth-place playoff 3-0 to Asian champions, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, from South Korea.

Following the highs of a long and highly successful 2006-07 campaign, the Navy Blues could only finish third at the end of the next regular domestic season, but still managed to edge past their rivals Waitekere United 3-2 in the tournament final to claim their third successive NZFC title.

Despite being determined to continue their winning streak on the continental stage, at the 2008 edition of Oceania’s premier club football competition Auckland City failed to reach the semi-finals after finishing second behind Waitekere United, who went on to win the tournament.

The Navy Blues bounced straight back in the 2008-09 season with a 2-1 victory over Waitakere in the NZFC grand final with goals to Jordan and Paul Urlovic to claim their fourth New Zealand title.

Another victory over Waitakere in Group A of the OFC Champions League saw Auckland progress to a two-legged home and away final against Solomon Islands outfit Koloale FC.

City followed up a comprehensive 7-2 first leg away win in Honiara with a 2-2 draw at their Kiwitea Street home to book their place at the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

Flying OFC’s flag in the UAE, the team defeated local champions Al Ahli 2-0 in the opening playoff match thanks to goals from Adam Dickinson and Chad Coombes, before going down 3-0 to Mexican outfit Atlante FC in their quarter-final clash.

That defeat left City to fight for fifth place against TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the playoff, described by coach Paul Posa as “the greatest night in the history of Auckland City Football Club”, the Navy Blues created a slice of Oceanian football history by defeating the African champions 3-2 with a brace from Jason Hayne and another goal by Riki van Steeden.

The two victories in Abu Dhabi were the first recorded by a New Zealand side and the first by an amateur team at this prestigious tournament.

On their return from the Middle East Auckland did collect another NZFC minor premiership, losing only one match in the process, but the effects of a long campaign finally caught up with the players as they missed out on a place in the OFC Champions League Final on goal difference after going through the group stages unbeaten.

They also suffered an NZFC semi-final defeat to Canterbury United, as a result of a shock 3-0 home loss in the second leg despite winning their opening away encounter 2-1.

This upset, only the third loss in their past 25 matches, was a disappointing end to a campaign which had reached such highs at the FIFA Club World Cup just a few months earlier.

In the second part of this article, due to be published later this week, we will chart Auckland City’s remarkable domination of the OFC Champions League between 2011 and 2017 under Spanish coach Ramon Tribulietx.

Ends

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