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Auckland and Amicale set up crunch clash

Slippery surface conditions from persistent rain throughout the afternoon meant both sides came out a little cautious in the Match Day 4 opener between the defending champions and the Solomon Islands’ debutants.
This is partly why they two teams went into the break locked in a scoreless draw – a cause of concern for Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx.
“I think it was one of those games that’s very difficult to play because of their structure or the way they play the game,” he says.
“It’s how the first half went. We always try to dominate a game early on and try to create the chances. I think we had quite a few chances, but to be fair they had a few as well. We managed to create the chances with our structure and we realised that we had to use that space in behind they were giving us.
“We capitalised on three, and it could have been more. I’m happy with the way we reacted against that style of play; it’s very different to what we’re used to.”
Western United didn’t waste any time and almost immediately gave their large group of fans something to cheer about as inspirational captain Benji Totori sped up the left flank in what was the start of some consistent to-ing and fro-ing between halves.
With a strike force that includes the competition’s leading goal-scorer, and former golden boot winner, Western United were always going to be a threat to Auckland City’s defence. Fortunately for the Navy Blues, goalkeeper Tamati Williams is in top form at the moment with several key saves helping to ensure his side kept another clean sheet.
It took a full 68 minutes before Auckland City could finally break the deadlock as skipper Ivan Vicelich lofted a ball in behind the defence which was picked up Darren White who took a couple of touches before firing in.
Five minutes later and a second goal was added by Gustavo Souto after the intial shot, off a tidy cross from Takuya Iwata, rebounded off the post and back out to the Spaniard to finish.
Western United never gave up on pulling one back, and substitute Jack Wetney was hugely unlucky on a number of occasions not to steal at least one goal. However the match was more-or-less sewn up when Darren White added his second of the night in the 87th minute.
Another hugely disappointing result for assistant coach Riccardo De Vivo, who had nothing but praise for his players, who left everything on the number one pitch at ANZ Stadium.
“The performance from the boys, what they’ve given me is 100 per cent. I can’t blame any single player, they’ve given me the maximum. Even today we had chances, we tried to open them up and at certain times we did and almost scored.
“We came into this game with zero points and we were looking to win the game otherwise we would be out of the tournament,” the Italian says.
“We tried to play with a high tempo, we tried to break them down. We identified in our analysis that Auckland City are a little slow in their transition into defence and so we went at them, we tried to score goals.”
De Vivo also acknowledged Auckland City and its pedigree.
“Credit to Auckland City, they are resilient. They regroup, they don’t fall apart, and they score goals. It’s how Auckland works.”
The second match of the day at ANZ Stadium was another crowd pleaser that had fans on the edge of their seats right up until the final whistle.
Suva were certainly considered the underdogs ahead of kick-off but their performance was well above that of a team with minnow status as they pressured the 2014 finalists from the first sound of the whistle, right to the end.
Former Fiji U-20 representative Rusiate Matarerega had the first attempt of the day within the first minute of the match, and while it barely tested Amicale goalkeeper Mauro Boerchio, it set the tone for the approach Gurjit Singh and his side took to this encounter.
When Saturday’s sole goalscorer Miguel Magnoni had to be replaced just 11 minutes into the match it looked like things could be turning pear-shaped for the 2014 runners-up. However just five minutes later they were on the scoreboard as Osea Vakatalesau opened his account for Amicale.
Again, almost from the restart, Matarerega was having another punt but it wasn’t until the 36th minute that Suva were finally able to pull themselves in line and it was a FIFA U-20 World Cup-bound Nickel Chand who hit the ball in off a delightful delivery from Maciu Dunadamu.
There’s no knowing what coach Marco Banchini told his charges during the break, but two minutes were all it took after the restart for Amicale to restore their lead as Vakatalesau went around the keeper to claim his brace.
Suva, in their opening match against Auckland City FC, proved they had the quality and tactical nous to challenge their opponents and their first half display against Amicale FC was another great example of just how well they’ve stepped up to this next level.
To their credit, Suva didn’t hang their heads and instead of giving up went in hunt of a second equaliser. They were rewarded in the 69th minute when substitute Waisake Navunigasau shot from out wide with an effort that had the glove-man Mauro Boerchio well beaten.
Amicale appeared to struggle after that, losing some of the rhythm they had established and momentarily slipping out of their formation as they tried to stem the flow from the Suva backline, through to the attackers.
There were some close calls, and the match really could have gone either way in the last 10-15 minutes, but in the end it was the experience of Amicale that prevailed. Super-sub Micah Lea’alafa was called on as a substitute with the sole instruction surely to attack the goal. He did just that and while he couldn’t quite hit the target himself, set Fenedy Masauvakalo up for the winner which came in stoppage time.
For coach Marko Banchini relief washed over him as the whistle finally signalled for full-time.
“I’m so lucky that I can train these guys because probably in the first half we made some mistakes. I think after we scored the first goal we thought the match maybe was finished,” Banchini shares.
“For me, Suva maybe didn’t start the match well, and we had some chances to close the match, but this is football – it’s crazy, it’s superb. They drew, and then we started to play football in the second half and had more chances.
“I’m very happy for the supporters here, the supporters in Vanuatu, this opportunity for all of us is very important.”
A huge match for Suva in front of their home fans, Gurjit Singh’s men showed that the side is more than capable of making the step up to the regional level, testing their opponents from start to finish.
“We definitely wanted to win this game,” Singh says.
“It was an interesting game and I think, one of our best games. We tried our best, both teams played well, both teams wanted to win to quality for the semi-finals so it was an important match for both teams.”
The 2015 Fiji Airways OFC Champions League action continues on Wednesday 15 April at ANZ Stadium in Suva, Fiji when Hekari United take on Team Wellington at 4.30pm, before AS Tefana play Tafea FC at 7pm.

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