Auckland City 1
Auckland City have made it back to the lucrative Fifa Club World Cup after defending their O-League crown with a 3-1 aggregate win over Tahitian champions Tefana.
Holding a 2-1 advantage from the first leg at Kiwitea St a fortnight ago, Auckland today (Sun) clinched the tie with a 1-0 win in Papeete thanks to a first half goal from Manel Exposito.
The win secured a fourth appearance at Fifa's club showpiece, and the US$500,000 cheque which comes with it, putting a prominent flourish on an underwhelming season.
Auckland - recently named Oceania club of the decade - were knocked out by Wellington in the semifinals of the ASB Premiership but a second straight appearance in Japan will temper any domestic disappointment.
They did it relatively easily today, becoming the first New Zealand side to beat Tefana on their own turf thanks to a professional display that overcame the dismissal of Alex Feneridis with 20 minutes remaining.
Coach Ramon Tribulietx was delighted to have guided City through another successful campaign but had some sympathetic words for the losing side.
"I feel sorry for Tefana because I thought they played very well in both matches,'' he said. "We knew it was going to be tight and in the end one goal was enough for us. I think we deserve it when you look at the work we have put in over the season and we are very happy.''
Tribulietx's nerves could have done without being a man down for 20 minutes and he admitted there was concern in the camp when Feneridis received his marching orders.
"Of course you panic a bit for a minute or so but after that I thought we settled down really well. We changed our shape to make sure we were defensively well organised and it paid off for us.''
Tefana started the contest the stronger side but the Tahitians were their own worst enemy with some wasteful finishing, punctuated by an extraordinary miss from Axel Williams, who somehow contrived to miss an open goal after Spoonley parried into his path a low shot from Alvin Tehau.
Tefana were made to pay for their profligacy a few minutes before the break, when Exposito cancelled out Tefana's away goal after finishing a well-worked free kick. Ivan Diaz played the ball into Daniel Koprivcic on the edge of the Tefana area, and his perfectly-weighted first time flick found its way between two defenders and allowed Exposito to slide the ball past Xavier Samin.
The goal, which gave Exposito the competition's golden boot title with six goals this season, came against the run of play, but that mattered little to Auckland who went to the break with a commanding 3-1 aggregate lead and one hand on the trophy.
Aside from a nice save from Spoonley early in the second spell, Auckland controlled proceedings fairly comfortably and could have clinched the tie with 20 minutes left when Adam Dickinson struck a tame shot directly at Samin.
Moments later, Tefana were handed a lifeline when Auckland midfielder Feneridis was given his marching orders. The 22-year-old struck Sebastien Labayen with blatant elbow in an otherwise innocuous challenge, giving the referee no choice but to brandish the red card and reduce Auckland to 10 men.
But Tefana failed to make their numerical advantage count and, aside from Spoonley being called into action to keep out a Lorenzo Tehau shot, the home side rarely threatened, allowing Auckland to hold onto their slender lead and book their ticket to Japan.