After scoring every knockout stage goal for Auckland City in the 2016 OFC Champions League -earning the club their seventh title – both Micah Lea’alafa and Clayton Lewis are eager to repeat their tally tonight.
Taking on AS Tefana in an identical fixture to last year’s semi-final, the only contrast being the two-legged format, both Navy Blues hope tonight brings the same joy and excitement felt in their 4-2 win last year.
“I was so excited to score two goals in the semi-final last year. It was such a big game and it was my first year with the team. I didn’t expect to have so much success, I was so happy,” Lea’alafa said.
“You’re always pleased when you get the opportunities, and when you take them it’s obviously quite a good feeling. Getting that little bit of glory is always great,” Lewis added.
Despite their impressive performances in front of goal, both Lewis and Lea’alafa credit their success to the entire team building up from the back and creating their opportunities.
“Anyone on the day could have scored and I think it was a team performance, Micah and I were just lucky enough to get on the end of things and help the team get the win,” Lewis said.
Keeping in striking form has been consequential –but in no way easy – for Lea’alafa and Lewis after a very busy year.
Both players have juggled the 2016 OFC Nations Cup, the 2016 FIFA World Club Cup, New Zealand’s Stirling Sports Premiership, the Nike Lunar New Year Cup, 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ – OFC Stage 3 qualifying matches and the group stage of the 2017 OFC Champions League.
Adding his campaign at the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup, Lea’alafa is grateful to have had so many opportunities on the field and court, but admitted performing at his best in back-to-back competitions has proved challenging at times.
“I have to balance it all because each code is different. I want to succeed in each one so it can be a lot of hard work,” he said.
Adding the OFC U-20 Championship to his full year of football, Lewis is also well-familiar with juggling different teams.
Although he believes the busy roster has given him invaluable experience, the 20-year-old admits the lifestyle can be quite demanding.
“Getting game time under your belt is a big way to improve as a footballer and I think that’s what young footballers need. Playing as many games as possible for as many teams as I can is really good,” Lewis said.
“The main thing is getting the recovery right and knowing you have a good squad of players who understand that even if there are changes, everyone is going to put in 100 per cent to try and get that win.”
After a week to recover from their last match – one of Lea’alafa and Lewis’ biggest breaks this year – both are feeling well-rested and confident ahead of their clash with Tefana tonight.
“My goal is to score goals and win our game. It will be tough to play against the team on their home soil but I will try my best to get the result,” Lea’alafa said.
“Everyone has prepared well over the last week and I think training last night was good, everyone was buzzing to get out there today. We’re really looking forward to it,” Lewis added.
Auckland City will face Tefana in the first match of their two-legged semi-final at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti, at 6pm (local time).