Words: ACFC Media
Thursday 29 March 2018
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC skipper Angel Berlanga says the Navy Blues motivation for the ISPS Handa Premiership grand final is high ahead of Sunday.
Auckland City FC and Team Wellington are set to clash for their third domestic grand final in a row, the first time in ISPS Handa Premiership history the same two teams have contested that many consecutive finals, and history beckons for the Navy Blues as they can become the first team to win seven National League titles and become the most successful domestic side in New Zealand football history.
Tempering that somewhat is the experience of Berlanga, who has won two grand finals with the Navy Blues, but also suffered heartache having been part of the club's four grand finals defeats to Team Wellington and Waitakere United.
And the 31-year-old defender is keen to buck that record and add at least one more domestic title to his win-loss ratio on Sunday.
"No one likes the feeling of losing Cup finals and its at the back of our minds how that felt to lose last year. Everyone will give an extra push to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"Finals are always hard to play because they give a sense the match is a 50-50 situation and can go either way. Over the course of the 2017-18 season we've played very well in the 18 regular season matches.
"But finals create unexpected situations and throw a lot of variables into the mix so you need to react positively to everything that happens.
"In the past, Team Wellington have shown a lot of hunger in the domestic final and managed to win them after finishing second in the regular season," Berlanga told www.aucklandcityfc.com
Team Wellington have yet to lose a match with Auckland City FC this season after beating them 3-1 at David Farrington Park in the opening game of the season then picking up a 0-0 draw at Kiwitea Street in February.
Based on those two encounters, Berlanga believes QBE Stadium will be a tense place on Sunday as the best teams in the country vie for New Zealand's top football honour.
"We're in for an evenly contested match and it could be very tight. Both ourselves and Team Wellington have defended very well throughout the whole campaign.
"There is a lot of respect both ways on and off the pitch between the sides and it may take something special to decide a winner.
"Team Wellington are a very tough side. They're very similar to us in a way because their key strength is in their playing system rather than with individuals.
"That makes it very hard to beat them and its something we haven't managed to do this season after a defeat and a draw in the regular season. If we can change that on Sunday there is a trophy waiting.
"Preparations have been light so far but will pick up as we get closer to the match but everyone is very focused because we lost the last two finals to Team Wellington and we want to get our hands on the ISPS Handa Premiership trophy," he said.
Adding to the fascination of Sunday's final is Auckland City FC's extraordinary defensive record that stretches 12 matches (1,080 minutes) without conceding a goal in all competitions. The Navy Blues defence hasn't conceded since January 13, 2018, when Ben Wade netted for Southern United in a 1-1 draw.
Does that add extra pressure to Auckland City FC's objectives? Not according to Berlanga who says the so-called record run is merely an indicator as to how well his team is playing as a collective group.
"The record is a consequence of our hard work as a squad - everyone in the squad has put in a lot of miles on the pitch - no matter who has played in the team. There's no pressure on us because of our defensive record as it shows that we're playing well as a team and that we have good depth.
"Defensively we've been solid which in a final is good because up front we're also very strong with Emiliano Tade, Callum McCowatt, Micah Lea'alafa, and so I hope everyone can have a good game and we win the final," he added.
Auckland City FC's record in domestic grand finals has stalled in recent seasons with the club losing four of the last six outings but Berlanga says the 10 finals contested between the two clubs shows that Sunday's game is potentially there for the taking.
"It is a fact that we have lost the last two ISPS Handa Premiership grand finals but on the other hand we've beaten Team Wellington three times in a row in the OFC Champions League finals so the record between ourselves and Team Wellington is 50-50 in this context.
"We are highly motivated to do our best for the team, the club and our supporters on Sunday in what is going to be a very big occasion for everyone involved. We're excited for the challenge set in front of us."
The ISPS Handa Premiership Grand Final is set for QBE Stadium on Sunday 1 April 2018. The match kicks off at 4.35pm NZST and is live on Sky Sport.
ISPS Handa Premiership Grand Final
Sunday 1 April 2018
Auckland City FC v Team Wellington
QBE Stadium, Albany
Kick-off: 4.35pm NZST
Live on Sky Sport
Children: FREE (with paying adult)
PRE-MATCH SUPPORTERS MEET-UP
The Merchant Bar - from 3.00pm NZST onwards
AC(from:) Enaut Zubikarai (GK), Darren White, Harshae Raniga, Alfie Rogers, Dan Morgan, Takuya Iwata, Angel Berlanga (c), Mario Bilen, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Marko Dordevic, Cam Howieson, Albert Riera, Fabrizio Tavano, Reid Drake, Owen Parker-Price, Dalton Wilkins, Harry Edge, Micah Lea'alafa, Callum McCowatt, Emiliano Tade, Conor Tracey (GK), Liam Graham, Kris Bright, Cole Peverley.
Coach: Ramon Tribulietx
Assistant coach: Ivan Vicelich
GK coach: Simone Naddi
Fitness coach: Adris Casals Barris
Physio: Matt Payne
Property Steward: Arthur Egan
Team Doctor: Dr. Craig Panther
Team Manager: David Firisua
Finalised squad for the ISPS Handa Premiership Grand Final TBC.
Tu 12 Dec 2023, Al Ittihad, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, KO: 9.00pm local