Stage set for Oceania showpiece

Auckland City threw the form book out the window to overcome local rivals and reigning champions Waitakere United and win their way through to the OFC O-League final. A 3-1 triumph saw Auckland set-up a two-legged showdown with Koloale FC, resulting in a repeat of last year's final clash between clubs from New Zealand and Solomon Islands, with Waitakere triumphing over Kossa FC on that occasion.

Expanding interest
Aside from the two nations represented in the final, the 2008/09 edition of the O-League also featured clubs from Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. The tournament attracted huge interest with significant crowds drawn to matches in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and most notably a number of attendances in excess of 10,000 at Honiara's Lawson Tama Stadium in the Solomon Islands. The Pacific nation continues to be a hotbed of football interest following the national team's success in reaching the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ play-off against Australia.

Interest in Papua New Guinea has also been immense in what is a Rugby League stronghold, with their representative, Hekari Souths United, narrowly failing to reach the final. With quality imports such as the Solomon Islander Jack Samani and enigmatic Fijian striker Veresa Toma, the team from the PNG capital Port Moresby recorded two late wins in the group stage to move within touching distance of reaching the continental showpiece. Koloale though snuck home in the final group match with a 1-0 win over Fiji's Ba thanks to a 34th minute winner from Nicholas Muri. Had the match ended in a draw, it would have been a first-ever final appearance for a team from PNG.

Ba's narrow loss in Honiara meant they finished three points off topping the group and were left to lament their form in front of goal. A disappointing tally of three goals in four group matches ultimately proved their downfall as they sought to repeat their appearance in the 2007 0-League final.

Kiwi dominance
Waitakere have won the two previous editions of the OFC 0-League in its current format, with last year's New Zealand champions going on to represent Oceania at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008. Despite leading the domestic competition the entire season and claiming the New Zealand Football Championship premiership in a canter, the club from Auckland's western suburbs were trumped by city rivals Auckland City in the grand final. A week later, the two had to face-off again in the O-League group match, with the winner-take-all prize being a berth in the final of the continent's most prestigious competition.

Despite wearing the underdogs tag, Auckland won a highly-charged derby 3-1 to earn the right to face Koloale later this month. Second-half strikes from Matt Friel, top scorer Keryn Jordan and Adam McGeorge sealed the victory for Auckland, with Waitakere managing only a late consolation goal from Fijian prodigy Roy Krishna. "It's great to be in the O-League final and I think the boys really deserve it," said triumphant Auckland coach Paul Posa. "They've played well when it has mattered this season."

The Solomon Islanders will host the first leg of the final on 25 April at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, while Auckland City's Kiwitea Street will be the venue for the second leg eight days later on 3 May. While the New Zealanders will start as favourites, Koloale will no doubt benefit from massive support in Honiara in the first encounter, with the incentive of a berth at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009 awaiting the victor.