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Auckland City And AS Pirae Complete Line-up At OFC Men's Champions League

Reigning OFC Men’s Champions League winners Auckland City will be back to defend their title in 2024, after navigating an entertaining second leg against New Zealand National League champions Wellington Olympic in their National Playoff.

Going into the second leg 1-0 down, Wellington Olympic surged into a 3-1 lead by half-time to turn the tie on it’s head, but two second-half goals from the Navy Blues assured them of qualification with a 4-3 win on aggregate.

Auckland City’s Dylan Manickum and Olympic’s Jesse Randall looked lively in the opening 20 minutes, but few chances came in a back-and-forth start to the game.

From here, the first half burst into life, with a flurry of goals. Hamish Watson got the first in the 20th minute, finishing cooly after a long goal kick from Scott Basalaj was met by a poor defensive header from Auckland City’s Jordan Vale.

Minutes later, following calls for a penalty as Jack-Henry Sinclair went down in the box, Randall quickly nipped in and directed the ball into the bottom left corner, making it 2-0 on the day and putting Olympic ahead on aggregate.

The Navy Blues quickly responded however to level it up again. Manickum’s deflected effort was superbly saved by Basalaj but an unmarked Mario Ilich headed in from Liam Gillion’s resulting corner to snag a goal back.

Hardly a minute after though, Olympic led the tie again, as a save made by Auckland City keeper Conor Tracey saw the ball fly into the path of Watson who emphatically headed home into an empty net to restore Olympics’ lead on aggregate.

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Opportunities on goal continued to come freely for both sides in an end-to-end finish to the first-half, with Auckland City searching an equaliser and Olympic looking to push further ahead with their attacking momentum.

A strong start to the second period reaped almost immediate reward for Auckland City. A cross from Nathan Lobo came to the feet of Regont Murati, who controlled the ball and smashed it in from short range to bring the tie level again.

With the aggregate score level, the tempo dropped off for a period, with both sides showing more caution with so much at stake.

Just after the hour mark, the teams emerged from their shells and ‘keepers Basalaj and Tracey became more involved with some promising crosses and efforts on goal. Gillion in particular looked dangerous for the visitors as both teams make use of their benches.

Into the last ten minutes, the Navy Blues found the goal they were desperate for. A long ball forward was cleanly controlled by Howieson before he fired into the back of the net to give Auckland City an aggregate lead to defend.

Olympic sought to find an equaliser, with substitute Oliver Colloty forcing a great save from Tracey, but the Navy Blues defence held firm.

Auckland City FC will now join Group A of the OFC Men’s Champions League in May in Tahiti.

Wellington Olympic FC: 3 (Hamish WATSON 20, 28, Jesse RANDALL 23)
Auckland City FC: 3 (Mario ILICH 27, Regont MURATI 48, Cam HOWIESON 81)

HT 3-1

AS Pirae are the final team to qualify for the OFC Men’s Champions League, following a dramatic victory over AS Tefana on penalties at Stade Pater in Tahiti.

Following a 1-1 draw earlier in the week, the two sides couldn’t be split after 90 minutes in the second leg, and while Tefana led during extra time, a very late equaliser from Ariiura Labaste sent the tie to penalty kicks, where Pirae prevailed inn sudden death.

AS Pirae showed more attacking intent early in the first half, with Sandro Tau causing trouble for Tefana with dribbling and a few dangerous efforts on goal.

Tefana had a penalty shout after 15 minutes with Eddy Kaspard going down under a challenge in the area, but the referee duly waved play on.

As the half wore on, the teams were mostly limited to half-chances from outside the area, as both tried to threaten on the transition but lacked precision in their passing.

Defences were on top as the half wore on, with both sides looking wary of letting the tie get away from them.

The tempo rose in the opening to the second period, with the crowd getting more into the game. Tefana goalkeeper Teave Teamotuaitau gave the ball away in a worrisome position, but defender Stéphane Faatiarau beat the Pirae attackers to the ball and cleared it from danger.

As the half progressed, both sides stepped up their hunt for the opening goal with opportunities on goal coming more freely.

Pirae thought they’d broken the deadlock in the 80th minute, as Tau directed the ball into an empty net after a collision between Yohann Tihoni and Teamotuaitau, but celebrations were cut short, after the referee adjudged a foul had been committed by Tihoni.

The match came to life late on, with François Mu and Francois Hapipi narrowly missing for Tefana, while Heirauarii could have won it for Pirae but shot into Teamotuaitau’s arms. Pirae would enter extra time with a steep challenge, as influential midfielder Heimano Bourebare received a red card in added time for a second yellow card.

After a frantic opening period of extra time saw both sides threaten, Tefana broke through in the 104th minute. Tehauarii Holozet picked out Kaspard with a pass through congested space, and the Tefana marksman delightfully dinked it over keeper Francois Decoret to put his team ahead.

Pirae sought to commit numbers forward in the second half of extra time, with Tefana restricted to counterattacks. François Mu had the ball in the net for Tefana after a chipped shot, but the flag was up for a clear offside.

Then from a free kick in the 121st minute, late drama arrived. After a good delivery, Ariiura Labaste managed to get a decisive touch on to direct the ball goalwards, and it beat the grasp of Teamotuaitau to bring Pirae level right at the very end.

In a tight penalty shootout, keeper Decoret proved the hero for Pirae, making two saves to deny Kaspard and Tearii Labaste, with Nick Tauotaha converting the crucial penalty to seal a 6-5 victory on penalties for his side.

AS Pirae will now take their place on home soil in Group B at the OFC Men’s Champions League in May.

AS Tefana: 1 (5) (Eddy KASPARD 104)
AS Pirae: 1 (6) (Ariiura LABASTE 120+1)

HT 0-0

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