Auckland City FC and Solomon Warriors both begin their OFC Champions League playoff tilts with added confidence in Auckland on Sunday having recently added trophies to their cabinets.
Defending Oceania champions Auckland City head into the quarterfinal having regained the ISPS Handa Premiership silverware thanks to a 1-0 win over Team Wellington after losing the previous two finals.
Meanwhile, Solomon Warriors won the knockout TSL Championship trophy last weekend with that competition coming at a opportune time for the Solomon Islands champions whose national league finished in November.
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx says that success in the grand final has its own pitfalls with the biggest challenge now refreshing the minds of his squad after a tight grand final.
“You’re coming from a final and a that involves a lot more emotions than a normal game and it was a very tense one. Having to play another one-off game a week after the final it’s a big ask mentally for the players,” said Tribulietx
“We’re trying to turn the page over as quickly as possible. We had a quiet celebration on Sunday but everybody understands that this is the big one. We’re hoping we will be mentally as recovered as possible.
“We hope we understand how big it is and don’t get carried away winning that title as can compete as if it was another final game on Sunday because that’s the reality if you lose.”
Solomon Warriors should little help focussing given the spectre of playing the nine time Oceania champions on their own patch is a tough challenge for anyone in the Pacific.
Warriors coach Moses Toata has a healthy respect for the Sandringham club’s achievements but knows that the upside of a win at Kiwitea Street would be knowing his side had the goods to go on and challenge for a place at the Club World Cup.
“We know Auckland are the champions of Oceania, they’re a very experienced side and we’re not taking anything likely,” said Moses Toata.
“In fact, we’ve always respected the club as the best and biggest in Oceania and we’re working hard on maintaining our focus and getting the players into the best possible condition heading into the game.
“I believe that if we can beat Auckland City then we have a very big chance to progress to the final. For us it’s like a final on Sunday. We will give everything to win.”
A sub plot to Sunday’s quarterfinal is the relationship of the two opposing coaches who worked together with the Solomon Islands national team during the 2016 OFC Nations Cup in Papua New Guinea with head coach Toata bringing Tribulietx on board as a Technical Advisor.
Tribulietx says that gives him an ever greater appreciation of the threat Toata’s team poses.
“I know most of the players who played in that squad and I know how Moses thinks but he knows how I think as well. I don’t think there’ll be any surprises from the two sides in how we both set up and of course I understand the potential dangers of a team like that.”
But if it also gave Toata an insight as to what Tribulietx would do, the Solomon Warriors coach wasn’t letting on.
“To be honest I always looked to Ramon as a very experienced coach. I learnt a lot from him when he spent a bit of time with the national team,” said Toata.
“I don’t know what his plans will be during the game – I cannot get into his brain for Sunday.”
Tribulietx will need to make at least two changes from the side that sealed the New Zealand title but he is blessed with the depth to be able to bring in Cole Peverley or Reid Drake who shone in the group stages in March while Owen Parker-Price is nearing fiull fitness and Dalton Wilkins is earning a reputation as a super sub after his scoring exploits from the bench.
Auckland’s defensives are well-recorded by now, with the club not having conceded for 1188 minutes in all competitions since January 13 and for 863 minutes in the OFC Champions League since the opening match of last season’s group stages.
But in the pace of their front three, Solomon Warriors possess a new kind of challenge for Auckland’s frugal back line.
“They’ve got very fast players in their front line like Tangis, Gibson Daudau and Gagame Feni,” said Tribulietx.
“They’re very fast and can hurt you on the break. It’s a team that will defend a little deeper and try to stop us playing through the middle and then if we make a mistake and they pinch it they’ll be flying on the counter.”
Toata acknowledged the strengths of his front line but asserted that every player would need to be on top of all facets of their individual and collective abilities to secure progression into the quarterifnals.
“That’s part of it. Sure they have pace but it’s only one part of football. We have to play as a team to beat the champions.”
The match kicks off at 2pm Sunday (NZT) at Kiwitea Street in Auckland. The OFC Champions League quarterfinals kick off on Saturday as New Zealand’s Team Wellington host Papua New Guinea champions Lae City Dwellers followed by Vanuatu’s Nalkutan hosting Marist from the Solomon Islands in Port Vila. Following the match in Auckland on Sunday, the weekend’s fourth and final quarterfinal sees AS Dragon welcome Fiji’s Lautoka FC to Stade Pater in Papeete.
Auckland City FC [NZL] vs. Solomon Warriors [SOL]
Auckland, New Zealand
Sunday 8 April
Kick-off: 14h00 (local)
Referee: Norbert HAUATA (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Philippe REVEL (TAH)
Assistant Referee 2: Bertrand BRIAL (NCL)
Fourth Official: David YAREBOINEN (PNG)
Auckland City FC
Vital Statistics: Auckland’s win in the grand final of New Zealand’s ISPS Handa Premiership earned them a seventh national title moving them past University Mount Wellington and Christchurch United at the top of the all-time list.
The Players: All White Cam Howieson was one of the few ever-presents in the Auckland City side throughout the New Zealand and Oceania campaigns until his recent New Zealand call-up saw him miss the domestic semi-finals. The midfielder has been a consistently high performer for the Navy Blues whether it be keeping their attack ticking over with the ball or doing much of the unglamorous work when out of possession.
Coach Quote: “It was a physical game on Sunday. A lot of players did a lot of running but we’ve got a week to recover so that side of things should be okay – it will be mentally that is the issue.
Team List: 1-Eñaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 2-Liam GRAHAM, 5-Angel BERLANGA (C), 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 (GK), 19-Micah LEA’ALAFA, 20-Emiliano TADE, 22Harshae RANINGA, 24-Connor TRACEY (GK), 25-Owen PARKER-PRICE, 26-Callum MCCOWATT, 27-Dalton WILKINS.
Coach: Ramon TRIBULIETX (ESP)
Vital Statistics: Solomon Warriors qualified for the knockout stages of the OFC Champions League for the first time in their history but needed back-to-back wins including a enthralling 2-1 win over hosts and group winners AS Dragon to clinch a place n the last eight after an opening defeat.
The Players: The inclusion of Vanuatu international defender Jason Thomas, who missed the group stage through other commitments, adds a physical presence to the Warriors backline and an aerial threat from set pieces. Goalkeeper Joseph Komu misses the trip due to injury and is replaced in the squad by Loea Taisara.
Coach Quote: “The loss to Erakor in the first game in Tahiti changed the boys’ mentality for the remaining games, where we won our next two games to qualify. The players aren’t here to lose. They want to win and continue in the competition. I spoke to them after we arrived and they are here to compete and to win. That’s the mindset we’re taking into the game.”
Team List: 2. Haddis AENGARI (c), 3. Allen PETER, 4. Jason THOMAS, 5. Fred FAKARI, 6. Molea TIGI, 8. John ALICK, 9. Jerry DONGA, 10. Judd MOLEA, 11. Ian PAIA, 12. Albert WITNEY, 14. Augustine SAMANI, 16. Emmanuel POILA, 17. Gibson DAUDAU, 22. Bata FURAI, 23. Gagame FENI, 24. Kensi TANGIS, 26. Lora MANI, 28. Abraham BIRD (GK).
Coach: Moses TOATA (SOL)