Soccer: Auckland giants on back foot for crucial deciders

By Terry Maddaford

Waitakere United play against Auckland City. Photo / Dean Purcell
Waitakere United play against Auckland City. Photo / Dean Purcell

Only comeback second-leg semifinal wins by either Auckland City or Waitakere United, or both, can stop a famous first in the ASB Premiership. Team Wellington and Canterbury United are just as determined to dash those Auckland hopes.

Either Auckland City or Waitakere United, and often both, have played in every grand final since the league's inception as the New Zealand Football Championship, but following first leg one-goal losses last Sunday, the Auckland giants head into tomorrow's deciders on the back foot. City have plenty in their favour and will expect to go through.

For Waitakere it verges on mission impossible as their chance to defend the title they won a year ago slips away.

Auckland City, the minor premiers and unstoppable through the regular season, have hit speed bumps recently but coach Ramon Tribulietx will still take comfort in having an almost full-strength squad to select from as they seek to turn around a first leg 0-1 deficit.

In holding the form team of the moment to just one goal at Newtown Park, City go into the second leg well-positioned to grab the spoils.

With home advantage - and a season-long unbeaten record at Kiwitea St - City start as favourites as confirmed by the TAB, which has them as clear winners of not only this game but the final as well ahead of Canterbury United, with Team Wellington the longshots.

In the only changes to the City squad, Ivan Ruiz Diaz is out injured but such is the depth of his squad, Tribulietx is able to call in former internationals Chad Coombes and James Pritchett as cover.

Getting the better of the miserly Team Wellington defence will be the biggest challenge for the City attack. With a great late-season run including victory in the White Ribbon Cup, Team Wellington have been in sparkling form, helped in no small way with the inclusion of veteran striker Henry Fa'arado.

Needing only a draw to progress, Team Wellington, beaten only once in their last 10 premiership matches, will fancy their chances of playing in a grand final for the first time since the 2007-08 season, whereas City are chasing their sixth appearance in the season showcase.

Like City, Canterbury have an unbeaten home record to back their claims. Playing on the artificial ASB Football Park surface is obviously a factor.

After last Sunday's refereeing debacle at Fred Taylor Park, both teams are without key players as Canterbury's Darren White and Waitakere's Tim Myers serve one-match suspensions. Waitakere also lost Jason Rowley and Ryan de Vries to injuries in the same match.

More disconcerting for Waitakere coach Neil Emblen is the failure of his strikers to convert the chances they continue to create but waste.

While Canterbury, like Team Wellington, can progress with a draw, Waitakere need to score twice to win 2-0 or 2-1 to go through on the away goal rule.

Clearly the four best teams in the league remain in contention. Team Wellington and Canterbury United are in the driving seats to win through to the grand final, tentatively scheduled for April 29, but they are up against the most formidable foes in the competition and will get no favours.

For Waitakere, the challenge is the greatest. They need to win both tomorrow's second leg and then the final to claim a spot in next season's O-League alongside already qualified Auckland City.

Canterbury will claim that second spot either by winning the title themselves or if City win the final. Canterbury would then join them in the O-League as second place finishers in the minor premiership.

ASB Premiership

Semifinals, second leg.
Auckland City v Team Wellington
Kiwitea St
Tomorrow 2pm.
Referee: Chris Kerr

Canterbury United v Waitakere United

ASB Football Park
Tomorrow 2pm
Referee: Mirko Benischke.

- NZ Herald

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