After proving impossible to separate after 90 minutes of football, the OFC Champions League semi-final second leg is set to come down to a battle of tactics between Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx and Team Wellington’s Jose Figueira.
With a further 90 minutes to play this time on the hallowed turf of Kiwitea Street, Auckland City’s home ground, both sides will go all out to claim their place in the final of the region’s premier international club competition.
However, it won’t be an easy task.
Even if you consider that Auckland City have never dropped an OFC Champions League match to Team Wellington anyone who follows these two sides will see that the distance between them has narrowed.
The first leg of this year’s semi-finals highlights that. Despite being able to test the reflexes of the goalkeepers at either end of Dave Farrington Park last Sunday, neither the home side or the visitors were able to score a much sought-after goal.
The result has set things up nicely for New Zealand football fans who will have an opportunity to once again see these two sides go head-to-head in a high-stakes encounter.
Both coaches will have spent the week pouring over the footage.
What does that mean for Sunday?
It means not only will the 22 players be facing off on the pitch doing everything they can to get an edge over their opponent, but they’ll also be working hard at implementing the tactical game plan of their respective coaches.
Auckland City FC coach Ramon Tribulietx is renowned for his match analysis and Team Wellington’s Jose Figuiera has also shown a talent for analysis and its incorporation into his side’s approach to individual matches.
Figuiera said for the squad it has been business as usual as they spent the past week recovering from Leg 1 and looking at how they’ll approach a second leg away from the comforts of their home ground.
“You have two teams here who are right on top of their fitness and their game,” Figuiera said.
“We’ll look at it all fresh as we always do and will pick out all those little details which will hopefully get us over the line this weekend.”
Figuiera said a slight change from what was expected from Auckland City last weekend came as a surprise, but felt his side dealt with the challenge well.
“It sort of caught us off-guard slightly in the first five to ten minutes,” he said of the positional switch which saw Reid Drake drop into left back and Dan Morgan push up higher.
“But the boys showed really good tactical flexibility to ensure we stuck to our plan and pressed them properly and tried to hurt them where we could with the ball.”
He expects more changes, or at least a reverting back to the norms, come Sunday.
“I’m expecting them to go back to their more traditional shape, playing at home in front of their fans, doing what they want to do in terms of playing with the ball.
“While we’re planning for them to revert back to their usual shape, we’re more than prepared for any other unexpected things that might pop up.”
For Tribulietx this is a position he has been in many times before and although never flustered does regret not being able to snatch an away goal while in Wellington.
“We didn’t get an away goal which is not good for us. But the way we competed in the game especially where it became very even, very transitional, we were good,” the Spaniard said.
“We didn’t concede either which is a positive.”
However he now has to focus on the task ahead and that means considering their opponent’s approach come Sunday, and how his side can take advantage.
“This is the biggest game of the season so far, there’s no doubt about it,” Tribulietx said.
“This game is going to be very difficult against a very good side and it’s important we understand how we have to manage to play our game within the tactical situation they set up with out there.”
Former Navy Blues attacking midfielder Nathanael Hailemariam is one of the threats Auckland City hope to close down once again, but he is by no means the only one according to Tribulietx who believes Team Wellington are a dangerous squad across the board.
“Regardless of our strategic approach for dealing with individual elements it is also important that we understand how to counter-attack Team Wellington’s attacking strategy much better than we did last time.”
If for the second time in a week these two sides prove unable to score against each other, the match will head into extra time, and if a winner still cannot be found it will be decided by penalty shootout.
There has only ever been one other penalty shootout in the champions league era of the OFC club competition – and it involved these same two sides.
In the 2015 final of the OFC Champions League in Fiji with the score locked at 0-0at the end of extra time, Auckland City went on to beat Team Wellington 4-3 in a shootout that secured them the title.
Sunday’s Leg 2 OFC Champions League semi-final has the potential to finish in either side’s favour and there is no doubt football fans will be in for a real display of football talent and tactics when Auckland City take on Team Wellington from 12.30pm at Kiwitea Street.
Auckland City FC [NZL]vs.Team Wellington [NZL]
Semi-Final Leg 2
Auckland, New Zealand
Sunday 29 April
Kick-off: 12h30 local (12h30 FIJ / 11h30 SOL)
Referee: Nick WALDRON (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Glen LOCHRIE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Stephen SENIGA (SOL)
Fourth Official: George TIME (SOL)
Auckland City FC
Vital Statistics: Auckland City have now gone 1043 minutes in the OFC Champions League without conceding.
The Players: Goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai is largely responsible for the Navy Blues ever-increasing ‘minutes without conceding’ record. Consistent in every performance he will once again play a key role in aiming for another shut-out. Frequently used as an impact player off the bench, Solomon Islander Micah Lea’alafa may have the unpredictable x-factor Auckland City needs to get past their old foes on Sunday.
Coach Quote: “We understand this is the biggest competition in Oceania and we always want to give a good account of ourselves and be as competitive as possible. Our preparation has been good and the players know what is at stake and look forward to playing in games like these.”
Team List: 1. Enaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 2. Liam GRAHAM, 5. Angel BERLANGA, 6. Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 7. Cameron HOWIESON, 9. Darren WHITE, 12. Kris BRIGHT, 13. Alfie ROGERS, 14. Cole PEVERLEY, 15. Daniel MORGAN, 17. Reid DRAKE, 19. Micah LEA’ALAFA, 20. Emiliano TADE, 22. Harshae RANIGA, 24. Conor TRACEY (GK), 25. Owen PARKER-PRICE, 26. Callum McCOWATT, 27. Dalton WILKINS
Coach: Ramon TRIBULIETX [ESP]
Vital Statistics: Team Wellington is one of only six teams to score against Auckland since the beginning of the 2017-18 New Zealand season. The others are Southern United (in two games), Cantebury, Tasman, Waitakere and Al-Jazira of UAE.
The Players:Like their opponents Auckland City, exemplary performances from the man between the posts have kept their side in contention. Scott Basalaj is reliable which makes it easier for players like captain Justin Gulley to make surging runs forward in support of the attack.
Coach Quote: “We were able to cause them a lot more problems than in the grand final of the domestic league and actually created a handful of opportunities. If we get an away goal, obviously it’s a lot harder for them.”
Team List:1. Scott BASALAJ, 2. Justin GULLEY, 3. Scott HILLIAR, 4. Mario ILICH, 5. Liam WOOD, 7. Eric MOLLOY, 10. Nathanael HAILEMARIAM, 11. Mario BARCIA, 12. Andy BEVIN, 13. Roy KAYARA, 14. Jack-Henry SINCLAIR, 16. Angus KILKOLLY, 19. Ross ALLEN, 20. Daniel MULHOLLAND, 21. Hamish WATSON, 22. Marcel KAMPMAN (GK)
Coach: Jose FIGUIERA [ENG]