The 2013 edition of the OFC Champions League was full of the usual drama and diversity, but ultimately there was a familiar outcome. Auckland City defied several stumbles to secure an unprecedented third successive crown and with it, claim passage to yet another appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup. This year’s edition will be held in Morocco.
Auckland City saw off cross-town rivals Waitakere United with a hard-fought 2-1 win in Sunday’s finale to continue a familiar, albeit curious trend. While Auckland have proven themselves continental kings once again, they continue to fall narrowly short at domestic level with Waitakere now on a four-year title streak after yet more success in March. However, the west Aucklanders’ bid for an unprecedented clean sweep of all four trophies on offer was stymied at the last in yesterday’s decider.
Auckland’s triumph – their fifth overall – concluded a freshly-rebranded and new look Oceania club competition. This group stage and finals was held over an abbreviated two-month campaign, in contrast to previous seasons which were played out over a six-month period.
Quirkily despite the compacted campaign, the long road to continental glory in fact commenced prior to the 2012 final last May. Cook Islands outfit Tupapa Maraerenga topped a four-team preliminary round at the expense of the champions from American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga only to then fail in their bid to reach the group stage with a 3-1 loss against experienced New Caledonia campaigners AS Mont Dore.
Islanders shine in the sun
Though two New Zealand teams contested the final – the first time both finalists have hailed from the same nation – the Pacific Islands representatives gave a solid account of themselves. Most notably, Fijian high-flyers Ba comfortably had the best overall record after the group stage winning five of their six matches. The Men in Black also hit 16 goals in their six outings helping them finish clear of second-placed Amicale of Vanuatu, and leaving Solomon Warriors and 2010 champions Hekari United in the shadows.
Waitakere took their strong domestic form to the continent and finished top of Group B. Auckland City secured the other semi-final berth but they only narrowly hang on ahead of fast-finishing debutants AS Dragon. Featuring a host of players that will represent Tahiti at next month’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, Dragon fell agonisingly short of a semi-berth.
The final group match saw the Tahitians host the New Zealanders in Papeete needing all three points for a semi-final berth. Teaonui Tehau’s early opener was cancelled out by Auckland’s Manel Exposito in a tense and physical affair. Li Fung Kuee thundered a header into the Auckland crossbar in the dying minutes as Dragon narrowly failed to secure another important chapter in what is a massive year for football in French Polynesia.
Kiwis show dominance
Despite the narrow escape Auckland City concluded the group stage as top goalscorers. Yet few would have predicted such a one-sided semi-final encounter as Ramon Tribulietx’s charges devoured a hitherto impressive Ba 6-1 in the opening leg for an eventual 7-1 aggregate win. Waitakere endured a far tougher time against Amicale and their 4-1 aggregate winning margin was not indicative of two tight matches.
Waitakere had every reason to be confident for the final having lost just once in six encounters against their local rivals over the course of the season. However, two quickfire goals within the space of three first-half minutes proved their undoing. Adam Dickinson and Alex Feneridis got on the scoresheet, and although Chad Coombes pulled a goal back, Waitakere, who lost Tim Myers to a red card on the hour mark, were never able to draw level. It denied the club a historic quartet of trophies and extended their drought at Oceania level to six years.
“This was the tightest of our title wins in this competition and we knew it probably would be because all the derbies have been very close this year,” said Tribulietx. “We’ll start to think about the Club World Cup next week, but for now we just want to enjoy this moment.”
New Zealand, however, didn’t claim the entire spotlight and Ba’s Nigerian striker Sanni Issa received both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot as the tournament’s best-performed player. Waitakere, for their part, collected modest consolation with captain Danny Robinson named the best goalkeeper.