Soccer: Auckland face tricky Tahitian test

By Kris Shannon

Auckland City are 90 minutes away from creating history and earning another massive pay day - but a tricky Tahitian test stands in their way. Photo / Getty Images,
Auckland City are 90 minutes away from creating history and earning another massive pay day - but a tricky Tahitian test stands in their way. Photo / Getty Images,

Auckland City are 90 minutes away from creating history and earning another massive pay day - but a tricky Tahitian test stands in their way.

The defending O-League champions head into Sunday's match against Tefana in Papeete with a slender 2-1 advantage from the first leg of the final, and a positive result would see them become the first side to lift the O-League trophy three times.

The success would be followed by a place at the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan later in the year and the US$500,000 pay cheque that comes with it, but no one at Auckland is counting their money yet.

That's because in their way stand a side which have avoided defeat at home all season. In addition to that impressive record, Tefana are also yet to be beaten at the formidable Stade Louis Ganivet by a New Zealand side in the competition's history.

The last Kiwi team to visit Papeete - Waitakere in February - were swept aside 3-0, while Auckland needed a late goal from defender Angel Berlanga to rescue a point in their last trip to Tahiti.

When you factor in the precious away goal Tefana secured at Kiwitea St when substitute Axel Williams struck with 20 minutes remaining, Auckland's task is a challenging one.

"Obviously we would have preferred to have a bigger lead but unfortunately we couldn't choose the score," Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx said. "An away goal is always important but that doesn't mean we can't score away either. If we play the same way I'm pretty sure that we're going to create the same chances.

"I would've have chosen not to concede, but that's the reality - we've got to relax and focus on this game."

Tefana's imposing home advantage is three-fold - the heat, a vocal crowd and an artificial pitch. While not much can be to temper the first two factors, Auckland trained on a similar pitch at a local high school before flying out earlier this week.

"We've been training on an artificial turf which is going to give us a little bit of practise," Tribulietx said. "But, obviously, they play their home games there, they train there, so they've got more practise than us.

"They were difficult in Auckland and they're going to be even more difficult up here."

That scenario appeared unlikely after Tefana's first game in the competition. They fell to a 10-0 loss on the opening day away to Waitakere - the biggest losing margin in the history of the O-League - but bounced back with a undefeated run in the group stages to find themselves on the verge of history.

Coach Laurent Heinis was pleased to have presided over such a dramatic reversal of fortunes but insisted his side still have much work to do to put the finishing touches on what would be a fairytale ending.

"After the result of the first leg of the final, anything is still possible," he says. "We believe Auckland are in a stronger position because they hold the lead. We are therefore the underdogs and are approaching the match from that perspective."

- APNZ

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