Auckland City FC are feeling a lot more confident about their chances of claiming a seventh-consecutive title after seeing off Team Wellington 3-0 in Leg 1 of the OFC Champions League at Kiwitea Street this afternoon.
Joao Moreira opened the scoring after a one-on-one with Team Wellington goalkeeper Scott Basalaj left Moreira on the ground and Basalaj with a yellow card and facing down a penalty. The Portuguese striker lined up from the spot and sent his effort just wide of the keeper’s hand.
Nine minutes later and Moreira was once again in the scoring mood, controlling a high ball in front of goal and connecting perfectly to sink it in the bottom right corner.
Auckland continued to control the remaining minutes of the first half, but bursts of possession from Wellington – and back-to-back saves from Basalaj – kept the score at 2-0 until the half-time whistle.
Team Wellington lifted in the second half, holding on to ball longer and keeping possession, but Auckland City goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai was quick to get a hand to multiple attempts from Joel Stevens, Andy Bevin and Ben Harris.
Aware of Team Wellington’s strong track record in set plays, the Auckland City backline kept the ball clear of Bill Robertson’s head during corners and were hungrier when it came to winning that first ball.
Combinations between Clayton Lewis, Joao Moreira and Darren White kept Basalaj busy throughout the second half. The keeper was put back in the hot seat when Moreira once again stepped up to the penalty spot in the 78th minute, this time after a foul from Guillermo Moretti, but an impressive save ended the striker’s chance of a hat-trick.
Auckland City’s third and final goal was a full team effort. Quick passes between Lewis, Moreira and Fabrizio Tavano had the Wellington backline trumped, and a tap through the defence to a charging Ryan De Vries left Basalaj with a one-on-one in the six-yard box. The second-half substitute had Basalaj well beaten as he almost effortlessly placed the ball in the back of the net.
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx was overjoyed with the positive result, but is keeping his feet on the ground as he turns his focus to the ‘second half’ next week.
“I think the boys played a fantastic game,” he said.
“It was a game that if you don’t play exactly – with the ball and positionally and with ideas – the way you have to then you can run into a lot of trouble. I think today we were very smart, especially attacking.
“Defensively, we had to tuck in and suffer the last 10 or 15 minutes, but we were playing against a very good team.
“I think overall it was a very good performance but it’s just the one game. There’s another game coming up next week and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be even tougher than this one.”
Disappointed to concede in the final minutes of the match, Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira was impressed with his side’s performance – especially in the second half – and is keeping his chin up ahead of next week’s final chance.
“We’re disappointed to concede that third goal in the second half. Auckland were fantastic in the first half and it took us a wee while get to grips with them and get a grip on the game. Second half we made a few adjustments, they dropped off a little bit having the two goals, but I thought we were great in the second half. We controlled the game and looked dangerous in that final third but we just lacked a little bit in those final actions today,” he said.
“The players are obviously feeling down in the dumps, but we’ve already climbed some mountains this season and we’re more than capable of turning this result around. We’ve got to have that belief. We’ve got goals in us and they are a quality side but we’ll go in next week with our fans behind us, at home going all guns blazing, to turn this result around.”