Defending champions Auckland City will travel to Papeete for Saturday’s match - which kicks off at 2pm on Sunday by New Zealand time - with a slender 2-1 advantage from the first leg but are far from being installed as favourites as opponents Tefana are yet to lose at home this season and have that vital away goal up their sleeve.
Whichever way the result pans out, it is certain that a new chapter in the O-League record books will be written as Tefana are aiming to become the first Tahitian outfit to take the title and Auckland are gunning for an unprecedented third championship win.
The New Zealanders have been kings of Oceania on three occasions - in 2006, 2009 and 2011 - but the first of those triumphs arrived under the umbrella of the OFC Club Championship, the competition that preceded the inaugural O-League of 2007. They are therefore tied on two O-League titles with countrymen Waitakere United and can nudge ahead of their fierce cross-town rivals on Saturday, as well as secure a place at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup and the US$500,000 pay cheque that comes with it.
But Tefana have just as much to play for as no side from the French territory has ever appeared on the globe’s biggest club stage and a win would complete a remarkable turnaround from a dismal start to the campaign. Coach Laurent Heinis and his men fell to a 10-0 loss on the opening day away to Waitakere – the highest ever losing margin in the history of the O-League – but bounced back with a undefeated run in the group stages to find themselves on the verge of history.
Heinis is pleased to have preceded over such a dramatic reversal of fortunes but insists his side still have much work to do to put the finishing touches on what would be a fairytale ending.
“After the result of the first leg of the final, anything is still possible,” he says. “We believe Auckland are in a stronger position because they hold the lead. We are therefore the underdogs and are approaching the match from that perspective.”
City go in to the second leg with their noses slightly in front after second-half goals to David Mulligan and Daniel Koprivcic proved enough to secure a win in the first leg, held at Kiwitea Street in Auckland on April 29. But Tefana kept their chances alive when substitute Axel Williams struck with 20 minutes remaining and Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx admits the tie is still on a knife edge.
“Obviously we would have preferred to have a bigger lead but unfortunately we couldn’t choose the score,” he says. “We didn’t want to concede but they got an away goal and that’s the reality. We played well in the first leg and created a lot of chances that unfortunately we didn’t put away. But at least we won and that’s what we now have to try to do again in Tahiti.”
To do so, Tribulietx’s team may have to achieve a feat no other Kiwi side has managed since Tefana came into the O-League two years ago – win on the artificial turf at the formidable Stade Louis Ganivet. Tefana have not lost at home to a New Zealand club since joining Oceania’s elite and the last side from that country to visit Papeete - Waitakere during Group A pool play in February - were swept aside 3-0. Auckland’s previous trip to Tahiti took place in the 2011 campaign and it took a late goal from defender Angel Berlanga to rescue a point in the 1-1 draw.
“That was a very difficult game and we only equalised right at the end,” Tribulietx says. “Tefana are used to playing on the artificial and we are not so that is an advantage for them. It is going to be a different story to the first leg because we will have to deal with the heat and they are at home so will have the crowd behind them. They were difficult to play in Auckland and are going to be even more difficult up there.”
Tribulietx has tried to prepare his charges for the challenge of the artificial by training on a similar surface at an Auckland high school and hopes to see that move pay off.
“The one we’ve been using is not exactly the same as Tefana’s but it is very similar and the ball bounces in the same way. It’s good that we’ve been able to get used to it before going to Tahiti.”
Both coaches have full squads to choose from and Tefana in particular will be stronger than in the first leg after welcoming back key midfielder Sebastien Labayen from suspension, as well as young duo Hiva Kamoise and Viritua Tiaiho, missing from the earlier game due to school exams. The only changes to Auckland’s line-up are the return of Spanish import Ivan Ruiz and Argentine Emiliano Tade, from injury and a family bereavement respectively.
The aggregate winner of the final will qualify for the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, set to be held in Japan during December.
2012 O-LEAGUE FINAL 2nd LEG FINAL
Tefana [TAH] vs. Auckland City [NZL]
Saturday 12 May
Stade Louis Ganivet
Local kick-off: 4pm (2pm SUN NZT)
Referee: Isidore ASSIENE-AMBASSA [NCL]
Assistant referee 1: Michael JOSEPH [VAN]
Assistant referee 2: Didier HMUZO [NCL]
Fourth official: Bruce GEORGE [VAN]
Tefana: 23. Xavier SAMIN [GK], 2. Stephane FAATIARAU, 3. Pierre KUGOGNE, 6. Heimano BOUREBARE, 7. Taufa NEUFFER, 8. Tetiamana MARMOUYET, 10. Hiva KAMOISE, 11. Jean-Claude CHANG KOEI CHANG, 12. Viritua TIAIHO, 13. Stanley ATANI, 15. Lorenzo TEHAU, 16. Sebastien LABAYEN, 17. Roihau DEGAGE, 18. Tauraa MARMOUYET, 19. Alvin TEHAU, 20. Axel WILLIAMS, 21. Angelo TCHEN, 25. Leonce ROOMETUA [GK]
Coach: Laurent HEINIS
Auckland City: 1. Jacob SPOONLEY [GK], 3. Ian HOGG, 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, 20. Emiliano TADE, 21. Ivan RUIZ, 22. Andrew MILNE
Coach: Ramon TRIBULIETX