New milestones are set to be ticked off in Sunday’s OFC Champions League regardless of the outcome. Auckland City and cross-city rivals Waitakere United will meet on Sunday with continental glory, and passage to the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013, in the offing.
History has already been made with teams from the same nation competing for the first time in the decider. Auckland City go into the contest aiming for an unprecedented third consecutive Oceania club title, their fourth since the Champions League format was established in 2007, and fifth overall. Waitakere, for their part, are hunting an unprecedented clean sweep of all four available trophies, three of them domestic honours, plus the coveted OFC Champions League title - their first since 2008.
The pair are New Zealand’s powerhouse duo, and have maintained a stranglehold on the championship across the competition’s nine-year existence. Curiously though, while Auckland have shone at continental level in recent years, it is Waitakere who are in the ascendency on the domestic stage and, having won the league again in March, they now boast four straight titles. With six previous meetings this season, the scene is indeed set for a classic battle in New Zealand’s largest city this weekend.
Big game know-how
Auckland City may have fallen short of their rivals this year on the park, but Ramon Tribulietx’s charges certainly possess significant experience at the highest level. Captained by the evergreen Ivan Vicelich – New Zealand’s most capped international – Auckland have featured in the past two FIFA Club World Cups. Despite their amateur status, they performed with distinction on both occasions losing out to J.League pair Kashiwa Reysol and Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Though Spaniard Tribulietx might be reluctant to admit it, his side’s big game experience will undoubtedly be of benefit amid the white-hot heat of battle. His team boasts several New Zealand internationals, as well as more than a dose of Spanish flavour introduced by Tribulietx during his time at the helm.
"Auckland City is a winning club and our target at the start of the season is to compete for all trophies and this is what we remain focused on,” said Tribulietx. “Waitakere have been a very good rival this year and probably better than us in terms of results. I think we’ve competed very well against them. Every game’s been very tight so we are confident that we know what we have to do to be competitive in the game."
While success has been a constant for Waitakere on the home front, they have been forced to watch their neighbours claim all the glory on the bigger stage. Indeed, it is has been five years since the West Aucklanders were last crowned Oceania kings, a lengthy period by their own proud standards.
While Auckland City may claim an edge in the experience stakes, it is Waitakere that have clear bragging rights this term. Paul Marshall’s men have won four, and lost just one, of the six encounters against Auckland this season. That one defeat came in the Champions League group stage as Auckland won 3-1 on their rivals’ turf, only to then fall 1-0 in the return.
Recent form means Auckland have reason for confidence in the goalscoring department. Impressive Spanish striker Manel Exposito has led the way with his side netting 19 goals in six group matches, before securing a stunning 6-1 semi-final win against highly regarded Fijians Ba. On the surface, however, Waitakere appear to have the edge in that regard thanks to in-form sharpshooter Roy Krishna. The prolific Fijian has bagged an impressive 25 goals this term, including three over two legs in the semi-final win against Vanuatu’s Amicale.
All of which has left Marshall with a level of self-assuredness heading into the decider. “We are full of confidence and I am extremely confident with this group of players,” he said. “We’re very fortunate at Waitakere we have a great mix of players. We have the ability to change our game, from keeping the ball to going a little bit more direct, and because of that we’re able to cause any team problems. We’ve got some pace that I think at times Auckland City struggle with and we’ll be looking to exploit a bit.”