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Preview – FC Gaitcha v Auckland City FC (Semi-Final 1)

The Navy Blues have come up against sides from “Le Caillou” in four previous editions of this competition and the six time champions are yet to lose to them – but coach Ramon Tribulietx says that’s not a good thing.
“We don’t want to look at this game like that. What has happened in the past is in the past and the history for this game hasn’t been written yet,” the cautious Spaniard says.
“We have to make sure we compete well because they’ve got some very good players in there – Kai, Bako as well. There’s a few players that play for the national team and they’ve already beaten the All Whites you know, so we’re aware of their strengths, their ability to play the game with the ball, they’ve got very good skills.
“We have to make sure we play the game well, or it’s big trouble for us.”
It has been a relatively easy road to the semi-finals for the defending champions, with three wins from three, and no goals conceded. The rematch with Amicale was expected to be the decider, which it was, as Auckland City outclassed their Vanuatu rivals, who in turn fell apart at the pressure.
Since learning their opponent would be the Francophones, Tribulietx has been reviewing match footage and preparing once again for an unknown entity that certainly has the quality to cause his side some headaches.
“It’s a team that capitalises a lot in transition, when they pick up the ball in space and run at players they are very dangerous and they have players in there that can beat one or two players in one go.
“They’ve got that ability and we have to make sure we control, structurally, the game and when these situations pop up we defend properly and also in possession we need to improve from the last game.
“It was a game that went our way very early, but maybe we didn’t have the amount of possession that we normally do and that means the game isn’t under control. We need to make sure that we do have it under control because they have the quality to score goals and win games.”
For FC Gaitcha it was a nervous wait to see how Auckland City would fare against Amicale after New Caledonians battered Lupe Ole Soaga 8-1 to secure a healthy goal difference.
There were surely celebrations when they learned that their stay in Fiji wasn’t over yet – with the debutants ending the group stage as the best second-placed team in the group stage.
Not only can they claim to be the first Caledonian team to make it past pool play since AS Magenta in 2005, but their impressive achievement has allowed them to stake claim on a second spot for a Super Ligue side, should the format for the OFC Champions League remain the same in 2016. The only downside for the club from Lifou, is that they most likely won’t be returning as they were neither winner, nor runner-up in the 2014 season, which decided the nation’s representative for 2016.
But they won’t be letting that likelihood enter into the reckoning as they look to overthrow the five-time consecutive champions and make a dream run all the way to the final.
“The road to the semi-final wasn’t easy, it was like a crescendo – we started badly, with terrible results in the first match. But in the quality of the game we knew that we had also performed not quite as badly as the results suggest, but it still wasn’t perfect,” coach Kevin Coma explains.
“The second game we did well in the match, and with the result, even if we did still make some errors and concede two goals that put us in a tight spot for qualification. Finally in the last match it was “Mission 6+”, we knew that we had to score a minimum of six goals, and yet we conceded almost immediately.
“A lack of experience, a lack of lucidity, I’m not entirely sure what was the reason, but with New Caledonians sometimes we need a little smack to the head to help us wake up and often we concede a goal before finally waking up and that was the case on this occasion.
“We weren’t completely in the game, but at least we were very efficient and at half-time we made some good changes and that perhaps is the reason why we were able to qualify.”
And while it has been a rocky road so far, Coma believes that the team has finally settled into itself and is ready to step up and meet the world’s third best club head-on.
“A big challenge awaits for sure. For me, I prefer to have that now because we’ve had a chance to prepare, the boys have built up their confidence over the course of the matches so far and to play the best club in the region – well we’re excited.
“We’ve watched a couple of Auckland City’s matches and done a little homework on them. It’s a team that is incredibly professional, in the rigour of their tactics, the trainings, and in their results – because three times, three goals so far.
“In the group matches it’s no secret that 3-0 is the score that implies you’ve mastered your game, you don’t need five or six. But they know how to avoid conceding too and that shows their abilities and the level they are at in comparison to us.”
Both sides will be down a man for this encounter with Auckland City’s Darren White suspended following his red card, and Jean-Christ Wajoka’s two yellow cards seeing him relegated to the stands as well.
While Auckland City certainly have the experience behind them, as Tribulietx pointed out, this Gaitcha side is no regular debutante with the number of international caps shared among its starting line-up impressive.
While the defending champions have been in this position many times before, for Gaitcha, a club celebrating its 50th anniversary in December, making it this far is an exciting prospect. But to be heading home next Monday – an even better one.
The first semi-final of the 2015 Fiji Airways OFC Champions League between FC Gaitcha of New Caledonia and Auckland City FC of New Zealand will kick-off at 3.30pm at ANZ Stadium in Suva, Fiji.
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