There is every reason for them to try to gain an upper hand going into the second leg, to be held at the Stade Louis Ganivet in Papeete in just over a fortnight. A hefty carrot is dangling in front of the sides in the form of a place at December’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, which brings with it a US$500,000 pay cheque.
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx is in no doubt as to the magnitude of the game and says the defending champions are desperate to book a return trip to Japan by hanging on to their title.
“We are very motivated,” he says. “We had an unfortunate result on the weekend but will stand back up and give it our best shot. This is the biggest trophy of offer in Oceania and we want to make sure we win it again.”
The O-League is now City’s only remaining chance of silverware this season as Tribulietx’s men were knocked out of the ASB Premiership last Sunday by Team Wellington at the semi-final stage.
“We were annoyed at the end of the game obviously and at training on Tuesday you could see that some of the players were still down,” Tribulietx says. “But we had a good chat and after that people were back to training the same way so we’re confident of playing well.”
That defeat, coupled with a draw and a loss in their last two O-League games, has led some to question whether City have lost their nerve at the business end of the season but Tribulietx isn’t bothered about the perceived drop in form.
“I think we’ve been creating the same sort of chances as we have in the past but unfortunately we’ve lacked a bit of accuracy. We dominated the game against Wellington and had a lot of chances but were a little bit inaccurate. We’ve been working on that and hopefully this time we’ll have some extra luck or accuracy and put the chances away.”
Tefana counterpart Laurent Heinis is full of respect for the hosts and believes his side, who are making their first ever appearance in an O-League final, are very much the underdogs.
“We are definitely playing the role of outsiders in this game,” he says. “We know this task will be very difficult but we will play to our strengths. Auckland City is a very good team but I think our outsider position will actually be good for us as it allows us to play without any pressure.”
Heinis will be expecting his charges to put in a superior showing than they managed on both of their previous trips to Auckland to face New Zealand sides. The last time the Tahitians played at Kiwitea Street was in the 2011 edition of the O-League and resulted in a 5-0 defeat while they were beaten 10-0 by Waitakere United on the opening day of this campaign.
That defeat was the highest ever losing margin in the history of the O-League and Heinis says it led to much soul-searching within the club. But there were mitigating factors – including goalkeeper Xavier Samin’s early sending off – and the players bounced back in ideal fashion with a 1-1 draw in New Caledonia against fellow francophones Mont-Dore and then a trio of home victories.
They also finally created some happier memories of the City of Sails by defeating Fijian side Ba 5-0 at Bill McKinlay Park to qualify for the final in a match rescheduled to take place in Auckland due to severe flooding in Fiji.
“They’ve been really strong at home and have a very physical style,” Tribulietx says of his opponents. “They’ve got some good players up front like Alvin Tehau and Axel Williams and have plenty of technical ability in midfield and at the back too. We know it’s going to be very difficult, they’ve been knocking in some good goals and have had some great results.
“When you’re playing in a home leg you need to score some goals and make sure you don’t concede because the away goals are very important. That’s probably what cost us in the ASB Premiership semi-final.”
Influential midfielder Sebastien Labayen is missing for Tefana through suspension while Manutahi Teremate is injured and Hiva Kamoise and Viritua Tiaiho have also not made the trip as they have school exams in Tahiti. Auckland’s only absentee of note Spanish import Ivan Diaz, who did not take part in the second leg of the Wellington clash due to a calf strain.
2012 O-LEAGUE FINAL 1ST LEG FINAL PREVIEW
Auckland City [NZL] vs. Tefana [TAH]
Sunday 29 April
Auckland, New Zealand
Local kick-off: 2pm
Referee: John SAOHU [SOL]
Assistant referee 1: Jackson NAMO [SOL]
Assistant referee 2: Ravinesh KUMAR [FIJ]
Fourth official: Rakesh VARMAN [FIJ]
Auckland City: 1. Jacob SPOONLEY [GK], 3. Ian HOGG, 4. Riki VAN STEEDEN, 5. Angel BERLANGA, 6. Chad COOMBES, 7. James PRITCHETT, 8. David MULLIGAN, 9. Manel EXPOSITO, 10. Luis CORRALES, 11. Daniel KOPRIVCIC, 12. Tamati WILLIAMS [GK], 13. Alex FENERIDIS, 14. Adam DICKINSON, 15. Ivan VICELICH, 16. Albert RIERA, 17. Adam McGEORGE, 22. Andrew MILNE, 23. Simon ARMS
Coach: Ramon TRIBULIETX
Tefana: 23. Xavier SAMIN [GK], 2. Stephane FAATIARAU, 3. Pierre KUGOGNE, 4. Luthy BOHL, 5. Mihimana LEMAIRE, 6. Heimano BOUREBARE, 7. Taufa NEUFFER, 8. Tetiamana MARMOUYET, 11. Jean-Claude CHANG KOEI CHANG, 13. Stanley ATANI, 14. Manutea TAAE, 15. Lorenzo TEHAU, 17. Roihau DEGAGE, 18. Tauraa MARMOUYET, 19. Alvin TEHAU, 20. Axel WILLIAMS, 21. Angelo TCHEN, 24. David CHANG KOEI CHANG, 25. Leonce ROOMETUA [GK]
Coach: Laurent HEINIS