Words: ACFC Media
Thursday 11 August 2022
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC finish OFC Champions League group stage with a 100 percent record after a Gerard Garriga brace guided his team to a come-from-behind 4-1 win over Nikao Sokattak at Ngahue Reserve today.
Coach Albert Riera made six changes to the team that defeated Rewa FC 3-0 three days ago with Conor Tracey, Ryan De Vries, Dylan Manickum, Aidan Carey and Adam Mitchell benched in favour of Cam Brown, Emiliano Tade, Liam Gillion, Matt Ellis and Christian Gray.
Skipper Cam Howieson was rested completely with Tade captaining the team.
With so many changes, and a predictable but well executed low block by coach Alex Napa, it felt inevitable that City may struggle to find a way through Nikao's solid defensive unit and that's exactly what transpired.
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Tade struck the post and goalkeeper Tahiri Elikana made important saves as City threw everything at the Cook Islanders in the first half.
But the first goal went to Niko Sokattak's Stephen Willis who capitalised on City's failure to clear the ball from their penalty box allowing Willis to rattle home a powerful finish six minutes before the break.
Willis' goal was notable for the celebration with Nikao becoming the first team to score against Auckland City FC in the OFC Champions League since 28 April 2019 when AS Magenta defeated City 2-1 in the OFC Champions League semi-finals in Noumea three years ago.
But Nikao's joy didn't last.
Immediately after the restart City broke forward and Nikao, in some disarray at having taken the lead, failed to close down Garriga who hit a dipping volley past Elikana for a much needed equaliser.
It was definitely a surprise to see the teams level at 1-1 at the break but Riera made modifications to his line-up without hesitation.
Carey came on for Jordan Vale and City also came out of the traps at a much faster pace.
Garriga put City ahead six minutes into the second half to give the host club the lead.
Lee and Ellis then scored a goal each inside the space of 60 seconds midway through the second half to give City a comfortable margin of victory.
Elikana pulled off several more top saves and he was ably supported by his team-mates who kept the score line respectable.
Riera explained why his team got a trickier test than perhaps many had anticipated.
"We didn't start the game in the best way. In was one of those games that can be very tricky because you've already qualified for the semi-finals.
"The players that come in are maybe not mentally ready and that's something we cannot afford and I addressed that at half time.
"I thought we were much better in the second half so I'm happy with the result," he said.
Nikao finished bottom of the group without a win but pushed every opponent in the section to their limit.
Riera paid Alex Napa and his team a genuine compliment.
"Nikao played very well and not just against us - in the other two games I thought they also played very well.
"They had a game plan and the way they executed it was very good.
"I think the only problem they had was they ran out of legs towards the end but they made life hard for every team in this group.
"It happened to us in the first half and they capitalised on set pieces," he said.
Auckland City FC now face the runners-up from Group A, Central Coast, of the Solomon Islands.
Riera said the next few days would be about rest and recovery and then focus for the semi-final.
"First we have to make sure everyone is recovered properly from their knocks and niggles.
"We have to be ready for Sunday because I think its going to be very interesting," he said.
Auckland City FC's OFC Champions League semi-final with Central Coast is on Sunday 14 August 2022 at 3.00pm NZDT.
The game will be streamed live via www.oceaniafootball.com.
OFC Champions League Group B
Thursday 11 August 2022
Nikao Sokattak 1 (Stephen WILLIS 39')
Auckland City FC 4 (Gerard GARRIGA 40', 51', Joe LEE 65', Matt ELLIS 65')
AC: 24. Cam BROWN (GK), 2. Mario ILICH (21. Ilham HAMEEDI 65'), 4. Christian GRAY, 6. Matt ELLIS, 8. Gerard GARRIGA, 12. Sam BROTHERTON (3. Adam MITCHELL 66'), 14. Jordan VALE (15. Aidan CAREY 46'), 16. Joe LEE (9. William ENG 65'), 17. Reid DRAKE, 19. Liam GILLION, 20, Emiliano TADE (c).
SUBS NOT USED: 1. Conor TRACEY (GK), 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 11. Ryan DE VRIES.
COACH: Albert RIERA
ASSISTANT COACH: Ivan VICELICH
GOALKEEPER COACH: Enaut ZUBIKARAI
MANAGER: Keith COTON
ANALYST: Adria CASALS
TRAINER: Alejo LEGUIZAMON
TECHNICAL: Jarrod WALLACE
PHYSIO: Matt PAYNE
Sunday 4 December 2022, Wellington Olympic, Mount Smart Stadium