Soccer: All Auckland O-League final in doubt

Alex Feneridis from Auckland City. Photo / Richard Robinson
Alex Feneridis from Auckland City. Photo / Richard Robinson

Defending champions Auckland have reached the final of the O-League after a securing the point they needed in Papua New Guinea, but Waitakere's travels weren't so fruitful.

The west Aucklanders lost 3-2 in a dramatic encounter against Ba in Fiji today (Sun), leaving their chances of making the competition final hanging by a thread. After group A rivals Tefana won 2-0 over Mont-Dore yesterday, Waitakere needed to avoid defeat to retain control of the group.

But they did no such thing, leaving their hopes in the competition resting with the side which beat them today. Waitakere need to win at home to Mont-Dore in the final round of fixtures and hope Ba manage take points from Tefana if the O-League final is to be of the Super City derby variety for the first time.

Auckland held up their end of the bargain against Hekari United, with a stoppage-time free kick from Alex Feneridis earning them a 1-1 draw to remain unbeaten in the competition and qualify for May's two-legged final.

But their city rivals had a much tougher time in Fiji, despite taking the lead after half an hour through a Matt Cunneen header. But Ba hit back just six minutes later, with goalkeeper Danny Robinson having a moment he'd rather forget, and the sides remained level at the break.

Ba scored twice in the second half to seemingly put the match out of Waitakere's reach, before substitute Sean Lovemore pulled one back with seven minutes left on the clock. Coach Neil Emblem subbed himself on and thought he'd levelled the scores after his shot rebounded off the bar and was agonisingly close to crossing the line, but his appeals to Tahitian referee Norbert Hauata fell on deaf ears and play was waved on.

Emblen has now seen Waitakere's fate go out of their hands and he was disappointed to have lost control of his team's destiny.

"We did not take our chances and that changed the complexion of the match," he said. "Ba is a good team with very good players and we expected a tough game.

"We now need a positive result over Mont-Dore and for Ba to draw with or beat Tefana, which is unfortunate for us."

The O-League group stage will conclude on March 31 with an intriguing final day in store before the home-and-away final in May.

- APNZ

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