After three years of heartbreak, Team Wellington finally reached the top of the mountain as they claimed their first OFC Champions League title in 2018.
They met Lautoka FC in a two-leg grand final and triumphed 10-3 on aggregate with a 6-0 win on home soil before completing the job 4-3 in Fiji a week later.
Team Wellington’s win was hard-earned after seasons of disappointment as New Zealand rivals Auckland City FC continually stood in their path.
Auckland City’s OFC Champions League titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017 all came via beating Team Wellington in the final.
Instead of meeting Auckland City in the final in 2018, Team Wellington drew the Oceania heavyweights in the semi-finals.
The New Zealand clubs set up their titanic final-four clash with resounding victories in their respective quarter-finals after cruising through the group stages unbeaten.
Team Wellington hammered Papua New Guinea’s Lae City 11-0, while Auckland City beat the Solomon Warriors from the Solomon Islands 2-0.
The semi-finals were contested across two legs and Team Wellington held City to a 0-0 draw on their home turf before they travelled north for the away fixture.
A 2-2 draw at Kiwitea St in Auckland gave Team Wellington the win on away goals and they moved on to another final, their fourth in as many years.
Meanwhile, Lautoka made their way to the knockout stages having finished second in Group C behind Auckland City.
From there they beat Tahitian club AS Dragon 2-1 in the quarter-finals and edged Marist FC from the Solomon Islands 2-1 on aggregate after their two-legged semi-final tie to punch their ticket to the big dance.
Neither Team Wellington nor Lautoka had won the OFC Champions League prior to 2018 so a new champion was set to be crowned.
It’s hard to think of a more emphatic way to stamp your mark on a home-and-away title decider than winning the opening match 6-0.
At Dave Farrington Park in New Zealand’s capital city on a cool Sunday afternoon in May 2018, Team Wellington did just that and laid the groundwork for their maiden continental club crown.
The home side were only ahead 1-0 at the break but a second half blitz ensured they all but killed the tie off.
“It was really important for us to make a statement and put ourselves in a good position heading to the second leg,” Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira told Radio New Zealand after the match.
“It was great to see the boys from start to finish maintain those standards and the high quality that we have so it’s great to see that being showcased today.”
Having done the hard work, Team Wellington finished things off in Fiji and while it wasn’t easy, a 4-3 win was enough to complete the victory 10-3 on aggregate.
“We always knew, it’s so difficult to play away in the Champions League and that first leg was really crucial. We got off to a good start and it was more than expected, but we knew Lautoka was going to be a tough nut to crack and we got that in the second half,” Figueira said.
“I’m delighted, we’re still absorbing everything but after a season of tremendous hard work, to finally clinch the big one is a tremendous feeling.”
The win saw Team Wellington claim a spot at the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time. They also became the first New Zealand club from outside the Auckland region to win the OFC Champions League.
Team Wellington drew United Arab Emirates champions Al Ain City in the first round of the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup and were ahead 3-0 after only 44 minutes but gave away their lead and were knocked out on penalties after the scores were locked at 3-3 following extra time.
Al Ain City would go on to finish second at the Club World Cup, losing 4-1 to Spanish giants Real Madrid in the final.