Words: ACFC media
Wednesday 24 May 2023
PORT VILA, Vanuatu - Auckland City FC have advanced to the 2023 OFC Champions League title decider following a tense penalty shootout victory over hosts Ifira Black Bird at Port Vila’s Freshwater Stadium.
With nothing separating the two sides after 120 minutes of football and the scores locked 2-all after extra time, Conor Tracey made the crucial save to keep the Navy Blues’ title defence hopes alive.
Earlier, Ryan De Vries came off the bench to score twice, one of them deep into injury time, as the New Zealand champions were facing elimination from Oceania’s premier club football competition.
It was a remarkable fightback by Albert Riera’s charges, who needed to dig deep against a skilful, fast and enthusiastic side cheered on by a large and passionate home crowd.
The hosts were the better team in the first half and it was no surprise when they took a deserved lead courtesy of left-back Kerry Iawak who smashed home from inside the box with a well taken right-footed low drive after being set up by Spockey Johnathan’s cross from the other side of the penalty box.
The Navy Blues played with more urgency after the break to create a number of opportunities in the final third, but they were caught out at the other end with Godine Tenene extending his side’s advantage by heading home from a free kick in the 60th minute.
With time fast running out for the reigning champions Ryan De Vries came off the bench and he soon gave a lifeline to City thanks to a crucial touch at the end of a Cam Howieson corner.
More drama followed as Ifira defender Timothy Boulet received his marching orders for a second bookable offence in the 74th minute.
The Navy Blues poured forward looking for an equaliser and they were finally rewarded in the fifth minute of added time with De Vries and Howieson combining again forcing the game into 30 minutes of extra time.
Playing with the momentum, Auckland City took full control of the proceedings with Tong Zhou rattling the crossbar with a vicious long range drive before Ifira skipper Samuel Koloros produced a desperate last ditch clearance from his line.
With neither side able to break the deadlock in extra time, the semi-final had to be decided on penalties and after nine successful attempts, Conor Tracey kept a cool head to make the winning save.
The title decider against Suva FC will be a rematch of their Group A clash, which the Navy Blues won 3-1.
It will be played on Saturday, 27 May with kick-off at 2:00 pm local time 3:00 pm NZST.
LIVE: WATCH HERE
Auckland City FC 2:2 Ifira Black Bird FC AET (PEN 5:4)
OFC Champions League - SEMI-FINAL
Wednesday 24 May 2023
Port Vila Freshwater Stadium, Vanuatu
Auckland City FC: 2 (5) (Ryan DE VRIES 68’, 90 + 5’)
Ofira Black Bird FC: 2 (4) (Kerry IAWAK 39’, Godine TENENE 60’)
AC 1. Conor TRACEY (GK) 2. Mario ILICH, (11. Ryan DE VRIES, 58’), 3. Adam MITCHELL, 5. Michael Den HEIJER, 7. Cam HOWIESON (c), 9. Angus KILKOLLY, 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 13. Nathan LOBO, (15. Aidan CAREY, 120'), 14. Jordan VALE, 16. Joe LEE, (12. Regont MURATI, 105'), 19. Liam GILLION, (22. Tong ZHOU, 45’).
SUBS NOT USED: 24. Joe WALLIS (GK), 4. Christian GRAY, 6. Dan MORGAN, 8. Gerard GARRIGA, 23. Matt ELLIS,
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
Tu 12 Dec 2023, Al Ittihad, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, KO: 9.00pm local