Champs Auckland stay alive, final four confirmed

The final four have been determined in the OFC Champions League with holders Auckland City edging through on Sunday's final day of group stage action.

The New Zealanders hung on for a 1-1 draw in Papeete against AS Dragon to deny the Tahitians passage to the semi-finals.

The point was enough for Auckland City – who have featured in the past two FIFA Club World Cups – to set up a semi-final meeting next weekend with Group A winners Ba.

The other semi-final will pit New Zealand champions Waitakere United against Vanuatu outfit Amicale.

Auckland’s two-year reign as continental kings was under serious threat against a hard-working Dragon featuring numerous members of the Tahiti national team that will feature in June’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Teaonui Tehau headed home in just the fifth minute to put Dragon on course to qualify for the knockout stages in their debut season at this level.

Dragon went on to control the rest of the half on their home patch, but Auckland were not about to loosen their grip on the trophy without a fight and duly equalised with one of their only chances of the half. Spanish striker Manel Exposito netted his fourth goal of the campaign six minutes before the interval.

In a tense and physical second half, Dragon came closest to winning the match when Li Fung Kuee thundered a header into the Auckland crossbar with five minutes remaining.

However, the Tahitians couldn’t score the goal they so desperately needed and a frustrating night saw Steevy Chong Hue dismissed in injury time.

“That was without doubt one of the hardest games this club has played in an Oceania football competition,” said Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx.

“When the final whistle went there was elation and happiness because it was such a hard match for us. Dragon are a fantastic team but our players have played these kinds of games before and know how to avoid making mistakes, especially in the last minutes.”

Auckland’s cross-city rivals Waitakere had a far more relaxed time in seeing off New Caledonia’s AS Mont-Dore 3-2 to guarantee top spot in the group.

The New Caledonians twice came from behind on home turf but were unable to secure a share of the spoils with Chris Palmer hitting a brace, before Ryan De Vries bagged the winner 12 from full time.

Top spot on the line
A day earlier, Ba confirmed their place at the top of the pool with a 2-0 win over Amicale, and former champs Hekari United finally earned their first victory of the campaign by defeating fellow strugglers Solomon Warriors 2-1.

Top spot was on the line in Fiji although Ba boasted a comfortable goal difference.

Amicale spurned an early opportunity by missing a penalty and the Fijians took full advantage with a pair of second-half goals.

Nigerian import Sanni Issa continued a run of scoring in every round to lead the golden boot race with nine goals, while substitute Abbu Zahid extended the margin late on.

The first leg of the home-and-away semi-finals will take place next Saturday with Waitakere travelling to Amicale and Auckland hosting Ba.