Words: ACFC Media
Friday 22 March 2019
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC will tread warily when they take on Team Wellington in Sunday's one-off ISPS Handa Premiership semi-final at Kiwitea Street.
Team Wellington have taken on the role of Navy Blues' party poopers in recent seasons with the Miramar-based club knocking over Auckland City FC in last season's OFC Champions League semi-finals on away goals and also claiming back-to-back ISPS Handa Premiership titles in 2016 and 2017.
That spoiler role is nothing new for the Jose Figueira-coached side with Team Wellington last eliminating Auckland City FC at the semi-final stage of New Zealand's domestic football showpiece in a 4-2 aggregate win.
Auckland City FC have totally dominated the domestic and regional scene ramping up a truckload of honours yet they've only managed to produce a cleansweep of domestic trophies twice - in 2005-06 and 2013-14.
Coach Ramon Tribulietx is always at pains to treat the ISPS Handa Premiership playoffs as a completely separate competition and says the key to Sunday's match is focus.
"The team has looked good in training and our spirit in a football sense is very good and in a good space. We've been playing very good football and understand the difficulty presented by this game.
"The only way to overcome the nature of a one-off game is by winning it. In some respects we have to forget we won the league title but understand that was a different competition," he told www.aucklandcityfc.com.
Auckland City FC lost two of it's most prolific goalscorers last season when Emiliano Tade and Ryan De Vries each earned moves to professional football in South Africa and Japan but Tribulietx has been pleased with the performance of the newcomers.
Nerves, Tribulietx admits, will be a factor for everyone.
"We've had a lot of new players come in this season but they've done very well and they have a great future ahead of them.
"This game is a different scenario and it's perhaps closer to the situation we faced in the Solomon Islands where if you make a mistake you're out of the competition.
"Pressure can change things sometimes, there are always a few nerves but they go away after a few minutes. We'll play our style and learn the lessons from our last game against them where we won 2-1.
"Tactically we need to understand what we are doing and believe in what we are doing. We need to show the same determination and resilience no matter what is happening in the game. Our mindset will be the same as it has been all season," he added.
Team Wellington's debut at the FIFA Club World Cup last year combined with a hugely creditable performance led to the inevitable departures of several first choice figures including Justin Gulley, Mario Barcia and Scott Hilliar but Figueira has recruited replacements intelligently.
Joel Stevens, Bill Robertson, Adam Mitchell and Alex Palezevic all signed in the January transfer window with the former pair no strangers to Figueira or his methods while Mitchell - a four cap All White - and Palezevic, a former age-group international, each with something to prove.
Tribulietx is quick to acknowledge how well Team Wellington have bounced back with excellent recruitment.
"Team Wellington are very similar to what they were and Bill Robertson is now back in that back three but they've also put out a team in a 4-2-2-2 formation in other matches which is interesting.
"We'll need to see how they line-up but a back three does give them a bit more flair.
"They have lost some players but they've replaced them quite well with players who are strong, good in the air and not bad on the ball in Robertson and Adam Mitchell. Joel Stevens is also back and is very good for them - he's got speed and ability and he's getting fitter.
"This game will be difficult for a lot of reasons and we're playing against a very good side. We have to think of this as a one-off game but as long as our focus remains strong we have a chance," he said.
While the one-off nature of Sunday's match takes a certain amount of pressure off Team Wellington there is no disguising their recent record against Auckland City FC which makes for poor reading.
Team Wellington haven't beaten Auckland City FC head-to-head since 17 October 2017, nearly 18 months ago and in the six matches since that Charity Cup victory they've drawn three and lost three.
The most recent encounter between the two sides saw Auckland City FC rotate their squad to give several fringe players a rare first team start, a shrewd move by Tribulietx after his team won 2-1 and pushed out new-look Team Wellington's learning curve slightly further.
Auckland City FC by contrast look to be heading into a rich vein of form with several players pushing first team regular starters for game time - Maro Bonsu-Maro has bagged ten goals this season, almost all of his goals coming off the bench and a couple - like his winners in both Hamilton Wanderers matches or away at Canterbury crucial contributions.
Dylan Manickum, who has been in and out of the side, can play a variety of positions on either flank or through the middle and last week netted twice in a derby win over Waitakere United.
David Browne and Dan Morgan have also chimed in with goals in big games, as has Fabrizio Tavano, which gives Auckland City FC some peace of mind ahead of the semi-final.
Defensively, Auckland City FC have few concerns with another miserly season in the ISPS Handa Premiership and OFC Champions League, with Angel Berlanga and Enaut Zubikarai more than dependable at the back.
Auckland City FC will be without Vanuatu international Brian Kaltak who is still recovering from a cheek fracture and Micah Lea'alafa who is away on national team duty with the Solomon Islands.
In the other semi-final, Eastern Suburbs host Canterbury United at Trusts Arena on Saturday 23 March 2019 at 2.35pm NZST. Canterbury come into the playoffs off the back of their cancelled match with Tasman United and, of course, with the trauma of last week's terrorist attack near Hagley Park that left 50 dead and as many wounded.
That match is likely to take on a surreal mood as Canterbury United staff and players try to process the events in Christchurch while the Lilywhites welcome them with open arms as they try to make the occasion as sensitive as possible.
Auckland City FC kick off their semi-final with Team Wellington exactly 24 hours later at Kiwitea Street. If both matches are level after 90 minutes there will be extra-time and, if necessary, a penalty shoot-out to determine the winner.
ISPS Handa Premiership
Sunday 24 March 2019
Auckland City FC v Team Wellington
Kiwitea Streetm Sandringham
Kick-off: 2.35pm NZST
AC (squad chosen from): 1. Enaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 2. Jackson WOODS, 3. Thomas DRILLIEN, 4. Mario BILEN, 5. Angel BERLANGA (c), 7. Cam HOWIESON, 8. Albert RIERA, 9. Javier LOPEZ, 11. Fabrizio TAVANO, 12. Dylan MANICKUM, 13. Patrick LUNDEMO, 14. Jordan VALE, 15. Dan MORGAN, 16. Yousif ALI, 17. Reid DRAKE, 18. Ruben PARKER (GK), 19. David BROWNE, 20. Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI, 21. Maro BONSU-MARO, 22. Omar GUARDIOLA, 23. Alfie ROGERS, 24. Josh JONES, 25. Darren WHITE, 26. Cameron BROWN (GK), 27. Takuya IWATA
COACH: Ramon TRIBULIETX.
INJURED: 6. Brian KALTAK (cheek fracture)
UNAVAILABLE: 10. Micah LEA'ALAFA (international call-up)
19.10.14 Auckland City FC 2-2 Team Wellington - NZF Charity Cup*
29.11.14 Team Wellington 4-0 Auckland City FC - ISPS Handa Premiership
15.02.15 Auckland City FC 3-0 Team Wellington - ISPS Handa Premiership
26.04.15 Auckland City FC 1-1 Team Wellington - OFC Champions League Final**
*Team Wellington won 4-3 on penalties
**Auckland City FC won 4-3 on penalties
02.11.15 Auckland City FC 3-0 Team Wellington - NZF Charity Cup
17.01.16 Team Wellington 2-2 Auckland City FC - ISPS Handa Premiership
28.01.16 Auckland City FC 1-0 Team Wellington - ISPS Handa Premiership
10.03.16 Auckland City FC 2-4aet Team Wellington - ISPS Handa Premiership Final
23.04.16 Auckland City FC 3-0 Team Wellington - OFC Champions League Final
23.10.16 Auckland City FC 4-0 Team Wellington - ISPS Handa Premiership
08.01.17 Team Wellington 1-3 Auckland City FC - NZF Charity Cup/ISPS Handa Premiership
02.04.17 Auckland City FC 1-2 Team Wellington - ISPS Handa Premiership Final
30.04.17 Auckland City FC 3-0 Team Wellington - OFC Champions League Final 1st Leg
07.05.17 Team Wellington 0-2 Auckland City FC - OFC Champions League Final 2nd Leg
15.10.17 Team Wellington 3-1 Auckland City FC - NZF Charity Cup/ISPS Handa Premiership
04.02.18 Auckland City FC 0-0 Team Wellington - ISPS Handa Premiership
01.04.18 Auckland City FC 1-0 Team Wellington - ISPS Handa Premiership Final
22.04.18 Team Wellington 0-0 Auckland City FC - OFC Champions League Semi Final 1st Leg
29.04.18 Auckland City FC 2-2 Team Wellington - OFC Champions League Semi Final 2nd Leg
14.10.18 Auckland City FC 4-3 Team Wellington - NZF Charity Cup/ISPS Handa Premiership
10.03.19 Team Wellington 1-2 Auckland City FC - ISPS Handa Premiership
v Al Ahly, Tangier, Feb 1 2023, KO: 8pm local