New Zealand’s Auckland City overcame a first-half scare to beat the Cook Islands’ Nikao Sokattak 4-1 to make it three wins from three in Group B at the OFC Champions League 2022.
Stephen Willis’ goal briefly threatened an upset before a brace from Gerard Garriga, topped up by goals for Joe Lee and Matt Ellis ensured top spot and a meeting with Central Coast FC of the Solomon Islands in Sunday’s semi-final.
As expected the New Zealanders peppered the Nikao Sokattak goal with shots in the opening period, the Cook Islands side happy to put 11 players behind the ball and hold out for an upset.
Emiliano Tade hit the post, among several chances for the Argentine striker, while Christian Gray, Garriga and Mario Ilich also came close before Nikao scored a goal to make their journey to New Zealand worthwhile.
Grover Harmon’s initial corner-kick delivery was cleared but persistence from Mark Leito allowed captain Willis the chance to fire home a memorable opener.
Unfortunately for the Cook Islands side their lead was short-lived. The tournament favourites equalised almost immediately, Garriga hitting a rasping half-volley beyond the despairing Tahiri Elikana.
Auckland City put any hopes of Nikao staging an incredible comeback to bed early in the second-half. First, Garriga fired home his second after latching on to Ilich’s through ball before Lee added a third from close-range.
Ellis made it 4-1, putting the finishing touch on a slick passing move from the nine-time champions.
Nikao goalkeeper Elikana kept the score at four with a couple of fine saves late on but Auckland City continued their clean sweep into the final four while Nikao Sokattak exit with their heads held high.
Nikao Sokattak 1 (Stephen WILLIS 39’)
Auckland City FC 4 (Gerard GARRIGA 40’, 51’ Joe LEE 55’, Matt ELLIS 65’)