New Zealand has once again dominated another OFC O-League season with Auckland City putting their name on the trophy for the second time in four attempts, and in the process earning a berth at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009. Sandwiched between those successes were win for Auckland's city rivals Waitakere United with New Zealand's dominance yet to be broken since the relaunched O-League commenced in 2007.
Island nations though have proved their worth by reaching the final in each season as Solomon Islands Koloale FC did this campaign. Off the pitch, the O-League season has once again been an unequivocal success with strong crowds notably in Fiji and also the Rugby League dominated nation of Papua New Guinea.
Most significant though were the enormous numbers that once again attended matches at the Lawson Tama Stadium in the Solomon's capital Honiara. The Melanesian nation again showing a remarkable passion for the game with five-figure attendances at Koloale's group matches, and then a heaving crowd estimated at over 20,000 for the first leg of the final.
Although Koloale repeated the feat of their compatriots Kossa FC in reaching the final, it was very nearly a debutant club playing in the continental decider. Initially drawn in the preliminary round, Papua New Guinea's Hekari Souths United made a late surge for the final only narrowly falling short of their goal. A slender 1-0 win for Koloale over Fiji's Ba saw the debutants eliminated in a tight group B where all three participants were still in the reckoning until the final match. The ambitious Hekari were the first side from PNG to appear in the group stage of the tournament and stated their ambition by acquiring the services of Solomon Islander Jack Samani and talismanic Fijian striker Veresa Toma plus a host of local talent.
Group A proved to be a two-team affair with the Auckland rivals battling it out throughout. Vanuatu's Port Vila Sharks were winless in the group but showed their abilities in the final match when they held Waitakere to 2-2 until former Leeds United defender Danny Hay secured a winner in the dying stages.
Much like the other group, a berth in the final was in the balance until the final match with Waitakere and Auckland going head-to-head. Having won the New Zealand Football Championship premiership in a canter and playing at home, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup participants Waitakere were warm favourites. However a week before the decider Auckland shocked Waitakere in the final of the New Zealand domestic season play-off and the pendulum had swung. Sure enough, Auckland duly ran out comfortable 3-1 winners to end Waitakere's two-year reign as regional champions.
An early goal in the first leg of the final from Richard Anisua had the large crowd in Honiara believing they were going to witness a repeat of the 2008 final when Kossa FC won the opening tie. However the home side weren't banking on some prolific New Zealand finishing as Matt Williams, Ki-Hyung Lee, Paul Urlovic and captain Ivan Vicelich all scored, before super-sub Keryn Jordan grabbed a second-half hat-trick. A final scoreline of 7-2 inspiring Auckland coach Paul Posa to describe the match as containing "the best finishing I've seen all year."
The second leg once again started with the opening goal scored by Koloale, this time from international forward Henry Fa'arodo. However despite only being the pitch a matter of minutes Jordan scored a quick fire double just after half-time to kill off the visitor's dreams once and for all. This time though the Islanders took home a share of the points thanks to Lency Saeni's goal, but it was Jordan that was the star with his eight goals, including five in the final, ensuring the South African international was a comfortable winner of the golden boot.
"The FIFA Club World Cup is a huge incentive - it raises the standards and it's incredibly good for Oceania," said Posa after the match. "We haven't wanted to think too far ahead but now we know we're going to the FIFA Club World Cup we can really start to plan. Now it is reality the club can really start to think about emulating Waitakere's performance last year or even going one better."