Lea'alafa returns for Navy Blues

Words: ACFC Media

Friday 11 November 2016

Picture: Phototek

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - The name Francesco Caruso isn't a familiar one for Kiwi football fans but he holds special resonance for the Navy Blues next Stirling Sports Premiership opponents.

10 years ago, Pennsylvania-born Caruso, then 24 years of age, scored a 74th minute winner for Otago United as they defeated Auckland City FC for just the second time in the club's history.

It was a much different time with the Otago United team of the day finishing fifth, enough to secure a playoff spot, under then coach Terry Phelan, the former Republic of Ireland FIFA World Cup left back.

Otago United's first victory over the Navy Blues was also at Kiwitea Street and the first time the two teams had ever met, way back in August of 2004.

Since then Otago United have morphed into Southern United but very little in the way of success has come their way particularly in this fixture.

Since losing to Otago United 10 years ago, the Navy Blues have racked up 19 wins and three draws in the last 22 matches including an astonishing 10-0 win in Dunedin back in 2013.

Such has been Auckland City FC's dominance in the fixture they've won the last 11 encounters in a row between the teams while the three drawn matches feature two 0-0 results and a single match that finished 2-2.

Coach Ramon Tribulietx says the Southern United team of 2016 is a much tougher prospect this season and that any historical data is irrelevant.

"From what we have seen they look definitely more competitive than in the past.

"Players like Eric Molloy look very quick and smart in the attacking third, Danny Ledwith good on the ball.

"They have definitely strengthened their squad in a lot of areas and their first few results have been pretty decent.

"They will be a dangerous side to play against," he said.

Auckland City FC have three key players missing with Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Clayton Lewis both called up to the All Whites squad for Saturday's crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier with New Caledonia at QBE Stadium.

Also likely to miss the trip south is midfielder Mario Bilen who has a niggling injury.

Back in the mix, though, is Solomon Islands international Micah Lea'alafa. Lea'alafa returned to Auckland City FC after a six month absence on duty at the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia.

"It is great to have a player like Micah back at any time. We have been working for a while with the rest of the team and he has missed the set up of our systems, but its great to see him back in the mix," he said.

He looks fresh and after not making the trip to Tahiti for the Solomon Islands FIFA World Cup qualifier in French Polynesia, could be in line for a shock selection.

In recent times, Auckland City FC have come up against opponents content to sit deep and its a challenge Tribulietx believes his team is getting to grips with.

"We are trying to improve in that area of the game, we have missed some movement up front in certain phases of the possession and have been working on identifying those moments to try to create a little bit more.

"But our possession has been very good and we have been able to penetrate lines of pressure.

"For us, it is all about converting possession into more clear-cut chances and hopefully with a bit of time those chances will come," he said.

The match at Rugby Park, Invercargill, kicks off at 2pm.


Extra Information

Match Details
Sunday 13 November, 2016
Southern United v Auckland City FC
Rugby Park, Invercargill
Kick-off: 2pm NZST

AC (from): Enaut Zubikarai (GK), Takuya Iwata, Angela Berlanga, Harry Edge, Reid Drake, Darren White, Ryan De Vries, Nicolai Berry, Albert Riera, Dae Wook Kim, Emiliano Tade, Joao Moreira, Alfie Rogers, Micah Lea'alafa, Marko Dordevic, Danyon Drake (GK), Jacob Spoonley (GK), Fabrizio Tavano.

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