The second leg of the home-and-away final took place on the artificial turf at Stade Louis Ganivet in Papeete this afternoon and saw defending champions Auckland hold onto their title - the fourth time they have been crowned kings of Oceania - with a tense 1-0 win.
Auckland went into the match with a slender 2-1 advantage from the first leg and extended that lead just before half-time through Spanish striker Manel Exposito, whose six goals have now earned him the competition’s Golden Boot. That strike proved enough to book the Kiwis a spot at Japan 2012 but they had to endure a nervy ending to proceedings after midfielder Alex Feneridis was dismissed midway through the second half.
Tefana looked to pile on the pressure as the clocked ticked down but struggled to create clear-cut chances as Auckland’s Ivan Vicelich-led rearguard held firm to make it back-to-back O-League titles.
Coach Ramon Tribulietx was delighted to have guided City through another successful campaign but had plenty of sympathetic words for the losing side.
“I feel sorry for Tefana because I thought they played very well in both matches,” the Spaniard said. “They were very strong defensively and difficult to play against. We knew it was going to be tight and in the end one goal was enough for us. I think we deserve it when you look at the work we have put in over the season and we are very happy.”
Tribulietx’s nerves could have done without being a man down for over 20 minutes and he admits there was concern in the City camp when Feneridis received his marching orders.
“Of course you panic a bit for a minute or so but after that I thought we settled down really well,” he said. “We changed our shape to make sure we were defensively well organised and it paid off for us. You have no option in those situations but to keep going.”
Despite facing a 2-1 deficit, Tefana’s title hopes were still very much alive going into the clash as they had not lost at home all season and had that vital away goal, courtesy of an Axel Williams lob, up their sleeve. But the hosts needed to score first to rattle Auckland and first-leg hero Williams became the villain this time as he spurned a golden opportunity to do so.
On the half-hour mark, Alvin Tehau struck a shot that goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley could only palm to the feet of Williams but the striker somehow side-footed wide of an empty net when it appeared much easier to score. Tefana were made to rue that glaring miss four minutes before the break when Ivan Diaz played a short free kick to Daniel Koprivcic, who deftly touched it into the path of Exposito for the former Barcelona player to prod home.
That put City firmly in control of their destiny but the match threatened to turn on its head in the 69th minute when Feneridis lashed out at fellow midfielder Sebastian Labayen, appearing to elbow the pint-sized Tahiti international in the face during a tussle for the ball. New Caledonian referee Isidore Assiene-Ambassa deemed the challenge illegal and brandished a red card to leave City with plenty of work to do to hang on to their title.
But Tefana could not make the most of the extra man and coach Laurent Heinis was left to reflect on what might have been.
“We are disappointed to lose at home like that,” he said. “We had the opportunity to score first and that goal could have changed a lot of things. Auckland played well and killed the rhythm of the game in the second half. They are an experienced team and our players will have learned a lot from playing against them.”
Joining Golden Boot Exposito in the individual awards were midfielder Albert Riera, who picked up the Golden Ball for being the tournament’s best player, and Spoonley, the recipient of the Golden Gloves for best goalkeeper. Solomon Islands outfit Koloale earned the Fair Play Award.
Auckland City will now go on to take part in the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, set to be held in Japan during December, and will receive a minimum US$500,000 for qualifying.