Monday 08 May 2017, 10:16

Seventh heaven for Auckland City

  • Auckland City win seventh successive Oceania title

  • The OFC Champions League featured a new format, including extra participants

  • Auckland set for a record ninth appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup

The format in this season’s OFC Champions League may have been different, but one thing remained unaltered – Auckland City are kings of Oceania. The Navy Blues were crowned Oceania champions for the seventh successive time on Sunday – nine titles overall - extending their own world record for most consecutive continental victories.

Their impressive 5-0 aggregate win over compatriots Team Wellington in the final ensured Auckland City’s return to the FIFA Club World Cup, which this year will be held in the United Arab Emirates. Auckland have made quite a name for themselves over their eight previous participations, given their semi-professional status.

Broadening horizons Eighteen teams participated this year, with all 11 OFC Member Associations represented. Competition commenced in late January with a quartet of Polynesian nations represented in the preliminary stage. The champions of American Samoa and Tonga missed out as Cook Islands’ Puaikura and Samoa’s Lupe o le Soaga advanced into the group stage.

This year’s OFC Champions League was expanded by four 16 teams, with four groups held over four different venues. AS Magenta hosted one group and advanced with a perfect record. Fellow New Caledonian side Hienghene Sport found no joy as hosts, with Team Wellington returning home with a 100 per cent record and a semi-final ticket. Unsurprisingly Auckland City eased through with three straight wins on home turf. AS Tefana were the third of four hosting teams to advance though they were pushed all the way by Solomon Islands’ Marist.

But while recent years have seen the gap closed on New Zealand’s two representatives, 2017 proved somewhat of a rude awakening for other aspirants. Auckland City eased past Tefana and into the final with a pair of 2-0 wins. Team Wellington’s form was even more imposing as they disposed of Magenta with a 9-3 scoreline.

Navy Blues dominant Despite Auckland City’s prominence at continental level, Team Wellington had enjoyed success over their illustrious rivals in recent years. Indeed, just a few weeks before the Champions League final Team Wellington defeated Auckland City to win the domestic crown for the second season in a row.

Team Wellington fell agonisingly short of continental success two years ago with a penalty shoot-out defeat against the Navy Blues. But there was to be no such tight margins this time around. Auckland City picked up a 3-0 home win in the first leg on the back of a Joao Moreira double, and a pair of second half goals in the capital a week later extended the winning margin yet further.

The result in the final underlined a hugely dominant campaign, even by Auckland City’s lofty standards. Auckland conceded just once in their seven games, going six successive matches without their rearguard being breached. They also racked up the highest winning margin in the competition’s history - an 11-0 victory over Vanuatu’s Malampa Revivors.

The Navy Blues also swept the individual awards with Moreira the competition’s top-scorer with six goals, Enaut Zubikarai was named the best goalkeeper, while captain Angel Berlanga won the golden ball as the competition’s best player.

“The team changes from year to year and it gets harder to win each year,” said Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx. “But when it comes down to these games the boys switch on and do the job. We all understand how important it is to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.”