New Zealand side Auckland City will represent the OFC at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011 after beating Vanuatu’s Amicale 4-0 in the 2nd leg of the 2011 O-League final to earn a 6-1 aggregate win.
Favourites Auckland had posted a 2-1 victory in the 1st leg a fortnight earlier in Port Vila and never looked like giving up their advantage this afternoon at Kiwitea Street, scoring three unanswered second-half goals to end Amicale’s dream of making history by becoming the first Vanuatu club to qualify for FIFA's showpiece club tournament.
In contrast, Japan 2011 will be City’s third Club World Cup appearance and few of the 3,000 spectators that crammed into the club’s Sandringham home today would argue they are not deserving of their spot, having watched them see off an early spell of Amicale pressure before dominating the rest of the match and underlining their standing as the best side in this year’s competition.
The visitors, knowing they would have to score more than once to realise their title ambitions, started strongly and kept City in their own half for much of the first 25 minutes. But they had few clear-cut chances to show for the dominance, coming closest through a left-foot strike from Selwyn Sese Ala that fizzed across the face of All White Jacob Spoonley’s goal in the 19th minute and with a Jack Wetney stepover and shot six minutes later.
They were made to pay for not making the most of those chances within moments, midfielder Alex Feneridis latching onto a partially-cleared David Mulligan cross on the edge of the box and rifling a spectacular volley past goalkeeper Chikau Mansale to the delight of the boisterous City faithful.
Now 3-1 down on aggregate, Amicale’s only option was to attack as much as possible but the rest of the half was a strangely subdued affair as City controlled the play and the likes of 2011 O-League Golden Boot Fenedy Masauvakalo and strike partner Wetney failed to test Spoonley between the sticks.
A dramatic comeback was always going to be unlikely and was all but ruled out in the 62nd minute when City fullback Ian Hogg was brought down just inside the box and Tahitian referee Norbert Hauata pointed to the spot. Auckland top-scorer Daniel Koprivcic stepped up to take the penalty and dispatched a clinical strike past Mansale for his fourth goal of the campaign and City’s second of the afternoon.
The goal appeared to deal a fatal blow to Amicale’s morale and they did little in the final half hour to suggest they were capable of a stirring fightback. Instead, it was Auckland who added further to the scoreboard, Spanish striker Manel Exposito smashing a powerful left-foot shot inside Mansale’s near post in the 72nd minute before substitute Adam McGeorge scored with his first touch, a header, ten minutes later.
Amid scenes of wild post-match celebration, Auckland co-coaches Aaron McFarland and Ramon Tribulietx struggled to find the right words to describe the victory. “It’s unbelievable,” McFarland said. “This has been the sole ambition of this team and you just have to look at the faces of the opposition to know how much it means. They are completely despondent and that could have been us.”
“It’s huge to have qualified for a Club World Cup and to get the chance to compete against players who are worth millions,” added Tribulietx. “For a club like us, this is a massive achievement.”
Auckland knew a 1-0 defeat would be enough to take the title but made clear their intentions to approach the match in an attacking frame of mind in the build-up during the week and came good on that promise.
“We played the same as always,” Tribulietx said. “We talked about not letting the previous score affect us but it’s hard not to think about it. We tried to play our style, we didn’t play much out of the back because they were pressing us really high but, on the other hand, it gave us some space further up the pitch which we used pretty well. You can’t complain about scoring four goals.”
Vanquished Vanuatuans proud
Amicale opposite Luke Eroi was understandably disappointed with the result but is proud of his charges for making it to the final, the finest ever performance by a Vanuatu club in the O-League.
“Auckland City was the best team on the day so they deserved to win,” he said. “We are happy with how we have done throughout the season. Amicale is still a young club so to come this far in a top competition like the O-League is a good effort.”
Eroi feels his players were not at their best today and both their fitness and decision making left a little to be desired. “We were a bit slow and gave the ball away too easily at times,” he said. “We tried to press them but let them play too often.”
In total, around 11,000 fans took in the action over the two legs of the O-League final and the season-long spectator figure is over 110,000 – the highest ever since the competition was established in 2007.
While his team will leave Auckland tomorrow morning empty handed, Amicale striker Masauvakalo will go home with a memento after being presented with the Golden Boot at the post-match awards ceremony. A pair of City players were also singled out for their efforts, Spoonley being presented with the Golden Gloves gong for best goalkeeper of the competition and Koprivcic receiving the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
City’s bounty does not just include those plaudits and the eye-catching O-League trophy. Qualification for the FIFA Club World Cup will earn the club a US$500,000 bonus.