Auckland on track for final

Auckland City's Daewook Kim. Image: Massimo Colombini

Auckland City FC is on track for their seventh consecutive appearance in the OFC Champions League final after defeating AS Tefana 2-0 in the first match of their two-legged semi-final at Stade Pater in Papeete this evening.

The Navy Blues dominated possession throughout the match and created several opportunities in the first half but were unable to break through the Tahitian club’s backline until the 48th minute.

A well-positioned Cam Howieson claimed the opener after Tefana goalkeeper Stevens Hiriga made an impressive save on a corner, only to drop the ball at the Auckland City midfielder’s feet. Howieson cut around the off-guard keeper and placed the ball into the bottom right corner.

Another clearance from Hiriga set Clayton Lewis up for the second goal of the match in the 75th minute. Joao Moreira stole the miscued ball in front of goal and made the pass around Hiriga to Lewis, who fired the ball into the back of the net.

Although Auckland City were the dominant team for the majority of the match, Tefana continued to fight a relentless battle until the final whistle, putting Auckland City goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai under pressure several times.

The goalkeeper’s talent wasn’t fully showcased until the fifth minute of additional time, however, when Sylvain Graglia sent in a powerful attempt from outside the box forcing Zubikarai to pull off an impressive save, jumping up and punching the ball over the crossbar.

With strong performances across the field from Auckland City, coach Ramon Tribulietx was pleased with the result and relieved to earn the lead ahead of their second clash next Sunday.

“We played a very competitive game and we were very switched on. Everything with the ball and without the ball was very good,” he said.

“It was difficult conditions and the field was a bit bumpy so that made our possession football a bit difficult but the team adjusted well to the circumstances and the physicality as well.

“We created a lot of chances in the first and second half and we managed to put two away which is great but it’s only the first leg. We’ve got a whole new game to play next Sunday.”

Although he was disappointed not to gain the early lead in their home fixture, AS Tefana coach Sébastien Labayen was pleased with his side’s valiant effort against the competition favourites.

“We knew that Auckland City would try to make the difference on the first match. I think we were solid except for the first 20 minutes where Auckland had all the possession. After that I think we had some really good combinations and were at the same level as Auckland,” he said.

“We were not dangerous enough at the front. We only had three good opportunities during the match whereas Auckland had plenty more so now it’s time to analyse what happened tonight in order to perform better next week.”

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