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Auckland City all but book berth in final

The match was expected to be a tight encounter with Auckland the defending champions and Ba having made it through the group stages undefeated but it was the cool heads of Auckland who won out on the day after ill-discipline from Ba resulted in the Men in Black being reduced to nine men.# #The first half got underway with Auckland taking advantage of the early possession but Ba were equally in the match during an even opening half hour. Few clear-cut chances were carved out and it wasn’t until the 31st minute that Auckland were able to score the first of what would later prove many, Chris Bale swinging in a cross for Manel Exposito to volley home off the underside of the cross bar in acrobatic fashion.# #The Fijian visitors were quick with their reply though, equalising just three minutes later after Sanni Issa dribbled into the box and drew goalkeeper Tamati Williams before squaring to the unmarked Tuimasi Manuca to tap home into an empty net.# #The two sides appeared to be evenly matched right up until the 43rd minute when Avinesh Suwamy received his second yellow card and was thus sent off by Tahitian referee Norbert Hauata, leaving his side to continue to battle with ten men.# #Shortly before the half-time whistle, Hauata was signaled over to the bench by fourth official Nick Waldron and this time it was Ba coach Yogendra Dutt being banished to join Suwamy in the changing rooms.# #Ba came out of firing in the second spell with Issa making a solo attack before being dispossessed by Albert Riera but, unfortunately for the visitors, the tables were set to turn in Auckland’s favour as substitute Emiliano Tade slid in at the far post to put a Takuya Iwata cross into the back of the net in the 63rd minute.# #Two minutes later and ill-discipline again came into play for Ba as Meli Codro was shown a straight red card, forcing the Men in Black to play out the remaining 25 minutes with just nine men, and opening up the field for Auckland to take advantage of their superior numbers.# #Exposito was the first to benefit, netting his second goal of the afternoon after latching onto a Tade pass in the 73rd minute. Seven minutes later and substitute Darren White was on the scoreboard after he knocked home a rebound off the post from an initial shot from Tade. Mario Bilen made it five for the home side in the 86th minute before White got his brace to round out the scoring in the 89th minute.# #Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx felt proceedings were certainly made easier for his side in the second half with Ba down to nine men.# #“That made it very hard for them but when we were playing 11 versus 11 we dominated and created heaps of chances in the first half,” Tribulietx said.# #“We conceded a goal but that’s part of the game. We knew they were very good and very strong physically. They hadn’t lost a game in the group stages so they were going to be very tough and full of plenty of confidence. I think we played really well considering the situation so we’re very happy with that.”# #Ba goalscorer Manuca was disappointed things didn’t go to plan but said the Ba camp expected it to be a struggle against the defending champions.# #“Auckland City have been right up there for three years so hats off to them,” Manuca said.# #“I’m really happy to get on the scoreboard myself but it was with the help of the boys. I think we played really well considering the conditions which we aren’t used to. We had two players sent off and we can’t do much about that. It’s the referee who makes those decisions and we have to respect that.”# #Ba now have a massive task on their hands to keep their dreams of making the final alive when they meet Auckland in the return leg at their Govind Park home on Saturday 11 May. The other 2nd Leg Semi-Final will see Vanuatu’s Amicale looking to overturn a 2-0 deficit against New Zealand champions Waitakere United on Sunday 12 May at Fred Taylor Park in Auckland.#

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