OFC: Auckland City FC have qualified for their sixth FIFA Club World Cup as a late, but timely, Emiliano Tade strike helped the defending champions see off Amicale FC of Vanuatu 2-1 in the Leg 2 Final of the OFC Champions League 2014 yesterday.
It was a nerve-racking experience for Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx who says his side has to be happy with the result after being taken to the wire by a worthy opponent.
“Sometimes these games aren’t tactical they’re just heart and guts,” the Spaniard said.
“Let me pay all credit to Amicale, I think they were a fantastic rival and they would have deserved it. We were the lucky side. We came back in a very difficult game from that goal they scored in the first half but I think the game was very even.”
Coming into the second leg of the final Auckland City FC had a slight advantage after earning that crucial away goal in Port Vila a week ago which ended in a 1-1 draw.
The match started cautiously for both sides with the stakes looming heavily over their heads. Amicale made the earliest advances forcing Auckland City keeper Tamati Williams to challenge the extremes of his abilities.
Just 27 minutes into the encounter and Williams was on his own as captain Ivan Vicelich brought Sanni Issa down in the box earning himself a yellow card, and a penalty for Amicale.
Scottish defender Colin Marshall stepped up to the spot and sent left, but the tips of a diving Williams fingers denied the much needed goal.
The back-and-forth nature of the encounter continued with errors on attack from either side leading to swift counter-attacks from their opponents. With the half nearing a close a stunning save from Amicale keeper Chickau Mansale, with a dive at the feet of Portuguese striker Joao Moreira, kept his sheet clean before the action headed to the other end of the pitch.
Nigerian Sanni Issa raced up the right flank on the counter-attack, delivered a delightful cross behind Auckland’s defensive line for an unmarked Kensi Tangis who sent a thundering header past Williams just ahead of the half-time whistle.
Tribulietx says the one goal deficit wasn’t ideal going into the break, especially against a quality side like Amicale, and he was impressed with how his players managed the situation.
“I think it’s just about belief – belief in what we are doing,” he says.
“We had created quite a few chances in the first half unfortunately we didn’t score them. We changed a few things we thought could benefit us but you never know.”
Wanting to put the match away, Amicale returned to the field with the same determination they’d displayed in the opening 45 minutes. But Auckland City were equally resolute – without showing a hint of anxiety at being behind.
Auckland made their first change in the 66th minute swapping out Sam Burfoot for crowd favourite David Browne and almost immediately it proved fruitful. As they’ve shown they can do in the past, Auckland City pulled themselves back into contention in the 67th minute when Ryan de Vries tapped in behind Mansale.
Again, the chances continued to fly at both ends of the park, with Amicale goalscorer Tangis coming within inches of stealing a winner, as did Serbian substitute Nikola Vasilic.
However the poise that has earned Auckland City five previous regional titles shone through in the 87th minute as the flying Argentinian Emiliano Tade found the back of the net – and the winner his side had been seeking.
“It was a great goal from Tade and I think the effort and the credit goes to the players as they’ve been with us all season,” expounded Tribulietx at the final whistle.
“It has been a difficult season for us, we’ve lost players at different stages of the season and it’s really hard to get back together and keep doing what we do. So for me, all the credit goes to our players.
“Right now I’m just thinking about celebrating this, enjoying this. It’s been a very long season, very tough but we have won everything and now it’s just about celebrating.”
A clearly disappointed Amicale FC coach Nathan Hall was, for the first time in his life, left speechless at the final whistle.
“One I’ve lost my voice, but the boys gave it absolutely everything out there today and I’m very proud,” he says.
“I thought our performance the whole game was fantastic, we put them under pressure, we scored a good goal and had countless chances.”
Hall believes his side ran a good campaign, with fans treated to the two best sides in the final.
“We gave them a great match here today and there’s a lot of emotions at the moment – disappointment, anger – but that’s football. Congratulations to Auckland City.”
The win fills Auckland City’s trophy cabinet to the brim after they took all the possible domestic honours winning the Charity Cup, the Minor Premiership and Premiership titles.
It has also been an outstanding season for match-winning striker Emiliano Tade.
Goals in both legs of the OFC Champions League Final saw him equal the goalscoring efforts of Pirae’s Naea Bennett with the two scoring six goals apiece in the 2014 OFC Champions League season.
Tade also added to his haul, earning the Golden Ball as the best player of the competition.
Amicale didn’t go home empty handed as goalkeeper Chickau Mansale picked up the Golden Glove award.
The final OFC Champions League individual trophy, the Fair Play Award, was this year awarded to the football fans of Vanuatu. Over the two matches held in Vanautu, Leg 2 of the semi-finals and Leg 1 of the Final, the Vanuatu supporters demonstrated their amazing passion and love for football through their sporting behaviour towards their home team – as well as the visiting teams and their fans.
The final between Auckland City FC and Amicale FC concludes the 2014 OFC Champions League. Auckland City’s victory over the two legged final has seen the club qualify for their sixth FIFA Club World Cup, which will be held in Morocco in December 2014.