Auckland City 2
Auckland City face a tricky trip to Tahiti to retain their O-League crown after edging Tefana 2-1 in the first leg of the final at Kiwitea St in Auckland today.
After a dour first half the defending champions scored twice in quick succession to seize control of the tie, the winner of which become Oceania's representative at the Fifa Club World Cup later in the year and earns a minimum US$500,000 pay cheque.
David Mulligan and Daniel Koprivcic had the home side well in control, but Tefana refused to wilt in the face of a dominant Auckland attack and grabbed a crucial away goal for their efforts with 20 minutes left.
Auckland threatened the poach a potentially pivotal third but the Tahitian champions' rearguard held firm to leave the tie in the balance heading into the second leg in Papeete in a fortnight.
Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx was disappointed at the concession of the away goal but backed his side to emerge triumphant, despite taking just four points from three games in the Pacific Islands this season.
"An away goal is always important but it doesn't mean we can't score away ourselves,'' he said. "I would've preferred not to concede obviously but that's the reality and now we have to relax and focus on the next game.''
Auckland's season has stumbled in recent weeks, seeing a long unbeaten run broken before being dumped out of the ASB Premiership by Wellington at the semifinal stage, but Tribulietx thought an improvement in attack was all that was needed.
"Unfortunately, we've been a little bit inaccurate in the attacking third in the recent past. We've been playing the same, we've been playing well, but you've got to score goals to win games and that's what has cost us.''
It looked like it could cost them again today, with Tefana holding their own in the opening stages and looking nothing like the side which lost 10-0 in their opening O-League fixture against Waitakere. The first spell was not exactly an advertisement for football, with the first real chance arriving only in stoppage time when Tefana keeper Xavier Samin did well to smother a shot from Manel Exposito.
The defending champions started the second spell stronger and quickly seized the advantage. Koprivcic found space in the Tefana area and Samin could only parry his shot into the path of a grateful Mulligan to tap home.
And Auckland doubled their advantage on the hour, with Koprivcic directing a low shot past Samin and into the far corner.
The double blow settled Auckland nerves and created a dilemma for the visitors _ do they push forward to try and pull one back or cut their losses ahead of the second leg?
They settled for a delicate balance between the two, and were soon rewarded.
The Tahitians broke quickly from the back and Alvin Tehau played a clever ball into space behind the Auckland defence for Axel Williams. Auckland custodian Jacob Spoonley advanced to close down the angle but Williams delightfully lobbed the ball over the keeper to secure a vital goal to take home to Tahiti.
One of the challenges awaiting Auckland there is an artificial pitch on which Tefana have dominated sides in this season's competition, winning all three games by a combined score of 9-1. Tribulietx said Auckland would practise on an artificial in the lead up to the game, but that wasn't the only advantage Tefana would enjoy.
"Obviously, it's going to be a different story because of the heat and because of their home crowd. They've been difficult here and they're going to be even more difficult up there.''