Soccer: Auckland first to reach final

Hekari United - 1
Auckland City - 1

Defending champions Auckland City have earned the chance to retain their O-League title with a last-gasp draw against Papua New Guinea outfit Hekari United in difficult conditions in Port Moresby.

City went into the match as the only undefeated side in the competition and needed just a point to book themselves a spot in May's two-legged final. But Hekari had just as much to play for, needing a win to keep their final hopes alive, and dominated proceedings on the bumpy PMRL Stadium surface under a searing sun.

It looked like the home side had pocketed the three points they so desperately required as they went into the closing stages 1-0 up, courtesy of a Maciu Dunadamu strike on the hour mark. But Auckland, who put in a subdued performance by their standards and were clearly affected by the stifling heat, received a boost when Hekari's Pita Bolatoga was sent off late on and used their numerical advantage to press forward in the final moments.

That pressure was rewarded in injury time when midfielder Alex Feneridis curled home a spectacular free kick to break the hearts of Hekari, who won the O-League in 2010, and book Auckland a second successive spot in the final.

"It was a tough game and they were probably better than us for the most part to be honest," said coach Ramon Tribulietx. "They knocked it around well but the field was not in great condition which didn't help us. It was a great free kick from Alex that got us the result we needed and I think we deserve to be in the final; perhaps not based on this performance but definitely overall.

"It was a very hot day and the field was a lot bigger than what we are used to at home and that didn't make it any easier, the heat definitely affected us.

"But we are now in our second O-League final in two years and, regardless of the way we played, the atmosphere is unbelievable in the dressing room. This is another great moment for the club."

- Herald on Sunday

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