Words: ACFC Media
Tuesday 23 May 2023
PORT VILA, Vanuatu - Auckland City FC will be facing a tough challenge when they take on hometown favourites Ifira Black Bird FC in front of a full house at Port Vila’s Freshwater Stadium for a place in Saturday’s 2023 OFC Champions League title decider.
Despite their opening round defeat to Hekari United from Papua New Guinea, the local hopefuls showed plenty of determination to advance to the competition’s semi-final courtesy of a hard-fought draw with Tahitian Group B winners AS Pirae and a tense 1-nil victory over New Caledonian outfit Tiga Sport.
Playing in their maiden Oceania tournament, Jean Robert Yelou’s charges have been improving every game and they will be riding the wave of a passionate and vocal support when they take the field against the defending champions from New Zealand.
Formed in 1918 and originating from the Island of Ifira in Port Vila, the locals have won three previous Vanuatu Football Federation Championships in 2015, 2018 and 2022, but booking their place in the title decider of the region’s premier club football competition in their first ever appearance would be the club’s most notable achievement to date.
And their coach insists his side will give all they have against the Navy Blues who are looking to secure their eleventh continental title.
“It’s a good challenge and experience for us and we will give everything, especially in front of our own crowd,” Yelou said.
The match will be Auckland City’s first at Port Vila’s Freshwater Stadium after completing their Group A campaign in Luganville.
Albert Riera’s men produced two patient and confident performances defeating both the Solomon Warriors and Suva FC with a 3-1 scoreline, before their final pool match against Lupe Ole Soaga was cancelled because of the Samoans’ inability to field a side due to sickness and injuries.
The City coach says his side is ready for the business end of the competition.
“We are all extremely happy to be part of the semi-final. We know what it’s required, we know what it’s needed to reach that far, we are very proud of what the players are achieving.
“The way they have been adjusting to all the situations they have to encounter, to the heat, to be playing every three days, that’s what we need to keep doing, that’s what is required to win the Champions League,” said Riera.
Despite plenty of promising signs during the group stage, the Navy Blues are not underestimating the task ahead and they are expecting their toughest assignment of the competition so far.
“We are going to be playing against a very good side, I personally believe it’s one of the best teams in the islands I have seen in many years.
“Ifira will be playing in front of their home crowd, we understand it’s going to be a full house, a lot of people will come to support their team, and we have to be absolutely at our best to win the game.
“The semi-final adds more pressure but we played in big games before, we know mentally how to face these games, and hopefully we can have a good game, a good performance and hopefully we can convert that into a victory,” the City coach explained.
OFC Champions League - SEMI-FINAL
Wednesday, 24 May 2023
Auckland City FC v Ifira Black Bird FC
VFF Freshwater Stadium, Port Vila, Vanuatu
Kick-off: 11.30 pm local time / 12.30pm NZST
LIVE: WATCH HERE
AC - 1. Conor TRACEY (GK) 2. Mario ILICH, 3. Adam MITCHELL,4. Christian GRAY, 5. Michael DEN HEIJER, 6. Dan MORGAN, 7. Cam HOWIESON (c) 8. Gerard GARRIGA , 9. Angus KILKOLLY, 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 11. Ryan DE VRIES, 12. Regont MURATI, 13. Nathan LOBO, 14. Jordan VALE, 15. Aidan CAREY, 16. Joseph LEE, 19. Liam GILLION, 22. Tong ZHOU, 23. Matt ELLIS, 24. Joe WALLIS (GK)
Coach: Albert RIERA
Assistant coach: Ivan VICELICH
Goalkeeper coach: Enaut ZUBIKARAI
Technical: Adria CASALS
Physiotherapist: Matt PAYNE
Logistics Manager: Keith COTON
General Manager: Gordon WATSON
v Auckland United, Mon 5 June 2023, KO: 3:00 NZT