New Zealand's Waitakere United today made sure of returning to the FIFA Club World Cup when they retained their O-League title in spectacular and dramatic style.
For the second year in succession, the West Auckland club overturned a first leg deficit to secure continental supremacy, putting five unanswered goals past Kossa FC of the Solomon Islands at Trusts Stadium to triumph 6-3 on aggregate.
Waitakere, who last time around recovered from a 2-1 first leg defeat to Fijian outfit Ba to qualify for Japan 2007, had looked underdogs to make this year's world club showpiece after crashing 3-1 in in Honiara 3-1 two weeks ago.
However, an eighth-minute opener from Benjamin Totori set the scene for an emphatic comeback, and after Chris Bale had levelled the aggregate score midway through the first half, three goals in the final 18 minutes from Allan Pearce (72, 78) and Jake Butler (85) capped a memorable victory.
The O-League crown also completes an unprecedented 'treble' for Chris Milicich's side, who were crowned NZFC Minor Premiers after topping the league table in the regular season and went on to win their first-ever full national championship, beating Team Wellington 2-0 in New Zealand's Grand Final.
Despite their domestic and continental success, however, Waitakere will hope to perform better in their second appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup than they managed in a short-lived debut last year, when they exited after a tame 3-1 defeat to Iran's Sepahan in the tournament curtain-raiser. Indeed, while the Kiwi part-timers will once again begin the 2008 edition as rank outsiders, their delighted coach believes that they are better placed to make an impact second time around.
Speaking after today's win, Milicich said: "This is the big one. This is what allows you to build your club. The NZFC is great but doesn't get you anything in terms of resources to move you forward. We'll now head up to Japan with the benefit of experience and much better prepared [than last year]."