Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: City face battle to qualify

Tahitians come from behind as they hammer home three goals in a stunning finale.

Auckland City's Ivan Vicelich tries to head the ball into the goal during the match against AS Dragon. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland City's Ivan Vicelich tries to head the ball into the goal during the match against AS Dragon. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland City captain Ivan Vicelich admits his team face a difficult battle to qualify for the OFC Champions League semifinals, after their shock loss to Tahitian champions AS Dragon yesterday.

The 3-1 defeat was the first time the four-time Oceania champions had lost to Tahitian opposition since 2005 and just their fifth defeat in eight years of Confederation competition. It was also the first win achieved by a team from the French Polynesian island on New Zealand soil.

City are now only two points ahead of Waitakere United and Dragon and face their Super City rivals on Sunday before a tough trip to Tahiti for their final match next week.

City led for most of the match thanks to a controversial 45th-minute penalty, before Dragon stormed home with three goals in the last 14 minutes in a stunning finale.

"They treated this game as their grand final and the result has opened up the group," said Vicelich.

"I thought we had done well for the first hour and were cruising quite comfortably. They took their chances and we couldn't respond. It leaves us in a difficult position in terms of qualifying."

"We didn't want to die tonight." said Dragon coach Ludovic Graugnard. "We knew a loss meant certain elimination. It's great to make history."

"In the last 20 minutes we lost control of the game and paid the price," said City coach Ramon Tribulietx, who rated the match as one of the worst results of his tenure. "We were sitting too comfortably at 1-0 and let them back into the game. We have to bounce back now."

There was barely a chance created in the first half, as both teams struggled to adapt to the greasy conditions. Just as the sun came out, so did the breakthrough. City striker Manel Exposito was scragged by the shoulder as he brought the ball under control in the area, enough for the referee to find a penalty - though the Spanish striker certainly made the most of the contact. Adam Dickinson converted the spot kick for his seventh goal of the competition.

The match came to life in the second half; Dragon had a goal rubbed out for offside early on, City's Gustavo Souto hit the post with a backheel and Exposito went close with an extravagant side foot flick while a Tahitian player was comically sent from the field to remove a long-sleeved vest.

The match turned in the 76th minute, after sustained periods of pressure from the Tahitian team, when Dragon striker Teaonui Tehau gathered a precise through ball, skipped past Vicelich and drilled his shot into the far corner.

Eight minutes later City failed to clear a corner and the ball was eventually deflected into his own goal by Vicelich. Dragon substitute Sylvain Graglia sealed the result in the final minute with a delightful chipped finish.

In the second game yesterday, Waitakere United beat AS Mont Dore 3-1. The New Caledonians, who had been thrashed 12-2 last Sunday by Auckland City, showed admirable resistance after being reduced to 10 men (and conceding a penalty) in just the second minute. Chris Palmer converted the early spot kick and Roy Krishna grabbed a second-half brace as the game opened up.

- NZ Herald

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