Wellington Olympic is confident it can take a big step towards ending Auckland City’s dominance of the Oceania Champions League with victory in the first leg of the New Zealand National Playoff this weekend.
The Central League champions host the national champions at Martin Luckie Park at 2pm NZT on Saturday with the return leg at Kiwitea Street in Auckland on Saturday the 18th of March at 4pm.
Wellington Olympic has been in pre-season training for the past five weeks and pushed City close in three encounters last year.
Forwards Kailan Gould, Jesse Randall and Gianni Bouzoukis have all departed but the Olympic squad has been strengthened with the addition of former Wellington Phoenix players Hamish Watson, the Central League’s Player of the Year last year and ex All White Joel Stevens who had been playing professionally in Sweden.
“We’ve also added Ryan Feutz originally from Western Suburbs who has been playing in Sweden and Oliie van Rijssel who has come from Finland to add to our attacking options.” Coach Rupert Kemeys said.
“We’ve had a good pre-season and have had several friendly games. We played Birkenhead last weekend. It was good preparation, but at the same time, going straight into qualifiers off the back of a preseason it’s hard to know what kind of performances both teams are going to put out.” Kemeys added.
Auckland City has played five games since the start of the year including their FIFA Club World Cup match against Al Ahly in Morocco last month.
Spanish midfielder Gerard Garriga is relishing the challenge against a team that has become big domestic rivals for City.
“Yeah, it’s exciting as a player to play games like this, that give you the passport to go to the OCL. It’s always a nice feeling to be involved. I think the best two sides in the country are playing.”
There have been several changes in the Auckland City ranks with attacker Tong Zhou joining the club from China and midfielder Michael Den Heijer returning for his second spell and the additions add to Garriga’s confidence.
“Yeah, I’m sure we get better. I think the players we add makes the team much better and we’re going to be stronger. Everyone has been talking about Wellington Olympic having a really strong team, but we have the same willingness and desire to keep going.” Garriga said.
Wellington Olympic are under no illusions as to the task they face against New Zealand’s perennial representatives in the OFC Champions League.
“I think they have won the National League for 10 years in a row and have built a consistent base of winning, and that’s what we found last year playing them. We played them three times and we lost by a goal every single time and we thought we played the better football.” Kemeys said.
But Kemeys is adamant his side can cause an upset over the two legs and qualify for the OCL in Vanuatu being held from the 14th to 27th of May.
“Yeah, I think 100% got the team to beat Auckland City, our squad has a lot more depth now and the boys are really up for it. We talked a lot last year when we won our second Central League title. One of our goals was rather than having a local team as a rival week I wanted to start having a rivalry against Auckland City, which I think we’ve built in the last 12 months.”
The seven teams already qualified for the OCL are Ifira Black Bird (Vanuatu) AS Pirae (Tahiti) Suva FC (Fiji) Solomon Warriors (Solomon Islands) Lupe Ole Soaga (Samoa) Tiga Sport (New Caledonia) Hekari United. (Papua New Guinea)