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Navy Blues reach OFC Champions League final

Auckland City’s defence of their OFC Champions League title is still alive after a 1-0 semifinal victory over New Caledonia’s AS Magenta on Wednesday (Thursday NZ Time) at Stade Pater in Tahiti.

The New Zealand side – looking to win a record-extending 12th crown – were made to work hard for the win by an AS Magenta side, who had only one day’s rest following their rescheduled final group stage match against Ifira Black Bird on Monday afternoon.

Young winger Stipe Ukich was the match winner for Albert Riera’s side, who will face either AS Pirae or Rewa FC in Friday’s (Saturday NZT) showpiece final.

Pierre Wajoka’s team showed considerable promise throughout and almost took the lead in the 20th minute. Cyril Drawilo chasing a seemingly lost cause to hook the ball back for Germain Haewegene, but the forward could only direct his header straight at Conor Tracey.

Liam Gillion had Auckland City’s best chance of the half, twisting and turning dangerously on the byline but his shot from a narrow angle was comfortably blocked by Mickael Ulile.

It was the New Caledonians that began the second period the stronger side, Jimmy Watu stinging the palms of Tracey with a left-footed effort having worked space for himself well on the right-hand side.

Auckland City OFC Champions League football
Auckland City players congratulate Stipe Ukich (right) after his match-winning goal. PHOTO: OFC MEDIA/PHOTOTEK

Haewegene was presented with perhaps his side’s clearest chance of the match, breaking clear onto a through ball over the top of the Auckland City defence, only to shoot straight at Tracey with time and space at his disposal.

The breakthrough came for the defending champions in the 66th minute. Ukich was found on the right-hand side of the box and showed considerable composure to cut inside a defender before opening his body up and side-footing calmly into the far corner to give his side the lead.

AS Magenta’s compacted schedule was taking a toll as the matched ticked towards the 90, with Auckland City showing their experience in controlling the tempo of the play.

Substitute Ryan De Vries had a good opportunity to double the lead in the 85th minute, latching onto a smart cutback from fellow sub Tong Zhou, but his effort from the edge of the box flew well over the bar.

Any hopes of an AS Magenta comeback were all but extinguished in the 86th minute when Jean Claude Jewine was shown two yellow cards in quick succession – both for acts of dissent towards the referee – leaving his side with an even taller task.

It was a task that proved too much, as the New Zealanders saw out the closing minutes to clinch victory and secure their place in the final.

Auckland City 1 (Stipe Ukich 66′) AS Magenta 0. HT: 0-0


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