Can Auckland City march on in Oceania or will Team Wellington finally prevail?

Auckland City's Ryan De Vries has returned from injury and will be fit for the OFC Champions League final
DAVID JOSEPH/PHOTOTEK.NZ

Auckland City's Ryan De Vries has returned from injury and will be fit for the OFC Champions League final

Will Auckland City win the OFC Champions League for a seventh year in a row, or will Team Wellington win it for the first time, and become the seventh team from Oceania to complete the domestic-continental double?

That's what's at stake over the next week or so, as they meet in a two-legged home-and-away final beginning on Sunday at Kiwitea St, that will not only answer that question, but also determine which of them qualifies for December's Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

It has been four weeks since Team Wellington won the national league final between the two sides, 2-1 at QBE Stadium in Auckland, and in that time, they each won their two-legged Champions League semifinals easily, and in the fashion you would expect - Auckland City 2-0 and 2-0 over AS Tefana of Tahiti, and Team Wellington 2-2 and 7-1 over AS Magenta of New Caledonia, scorelines that reflect the greater firepower the men from the capital posess, but also their greater potential to concede - they've kept just three clean sheets all season.

Ramon Tribulietx and Auckland City are seeking a seventh OFC Champions League title in a row.
REUTERS

Ramon Tribulietx and Auckland City are seeking a seventh OFC Champions League title in a row.

The Stirling Sports Premiership decider was an even affair, which Team Wellington edged because they created the better chances, and were better at finishing them. They pressed high up the pitch, and while they couldn't deny City their usual lion's share of possession, they did make life more difficult.

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But there was enough there that City coach Ramon Tribulietx was not too despondent about his side's performance. He was annoyed, understandably, by their failure to deal with aerial balls into the box and with set pieces, which were how Team Wellington scored, but believed they had done more than enough to put themselves in a winning position.

Auckland City celebrated hard after beating Team Wellington in last year's OFC Champions League final.
PHOTOSPORT

Auckland City celebrated hard after beating Team Wellington in last year's OFC Champions League final.

"We had more possession, and we had more shots, so we didn't play too bad, actually, bearing in mind that in finals, teams often don't manage to play fantastically well - there's a lot of nerves around and a lot of tension, so that makes these games hard."

The story of Auckland City against Team Wellington during Tribulietx's time in charge is one with two distinct chapters - bearing in mind that the team from the capital have had three different coaches and far higher turnover of players in that seven-season stretch.

In round robin games, Tribulietx's sides have win 10, drawn three and lost one, but in semifinals and finals, they have won four, drawn one (that they won on penalties) and lost four, a much less lopsided return.

Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira says his side have plenty of reasons to be confident.
SHANE WENZLICK/PHOTOTEK.NZ

Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira says his side have plenty of reasons to be confident.

They are unbeaten in the Champions League, however, where they are buoyed by their historic six-year winning streak, and by their strong connection to the Club World Cup, which has done more for Auckland City's profile than any of their domestic achievements.

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This is the third year in a row where these two have met in the decider, but the first where it will be played over two legs - the second is next Sunday at Dave Farrington Park in Wellington. Team Wellington got close in Fiji in 2015, taking an ugly, bitterly-fought game to penalties, but were well off the pace in Auckland last year.

Yet there is a sense they are as well placed as they are ever going to be, having gone undefeated for 11 matches in a row across the national league and the Champions League, while scoring 50 goals to 17 in that stretch.

Ben Harris scored both of Team Wellington's goals in the national league final four weeks ago.
JOWN COWPLAND/PHOTOTEK.NZ

Ben Harris scored both of Team Wellington's goals in the national league final four weeks ago.

Combine that run with the head-to-head result in the national league final four weeks ago, and Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira has plenty of reasons to be feeling good.

"We can go into these games full of confidence. Looking back at the national league final, as well as doing well without the ball, we created a lot of dangerous attacks, and quality goalscoring opportunities.

"There's always going to be areas to work on, and Ramon's a top coach and [City] are a top team - we've got to be ready for the potential that they will throw something slightly different at us."

Team Wellington's lineup portends to be nearly identical to the one that won in Albany on April 2 - Guillermo Moretti (who was suspended) should be in for Taylor Schrijvers at the back as the only change - but Auckland City's is harder to judge. For one, the change of competition means they no longer have to include eight local players in their match-day squad, but on top of that, injuries have had their say in recent weeks.

Ryan de Vries went off injured in the national league final, and played no part in the Champions League semifinal, but is ready to return; Fabrizio Tavano missed the second leg of the semifinal with injury, but should also be back; and Micah Lea'alafa, who missed the national league final, is also fit - his dribbling ability could be a game changer.

All White Clayton Lewis is likely to play a more prominent role than he did in the national league final, having been hampered by international commitments in the buildup to it, but there are concerns over fellow midfielder Marko Dordevic, who took a knock as AS Tefana got overly physical in the OCL semifinal.

AT A GLANCE

OFC Champions League final - first leg

Auckland City v Team Wellington
Kiwitea St, Auckland
Sunday, April 30; 2pm

OFC Champions League final - second leg

Team Wellington v Auckland City
Dave Farrington Park, Wellington
Sunday, May 7; 1pm

ROAD TO THE FINAL 

Auckland City 
Group stage: 2-1 win v Western United, 2-0 win v Lae City Dwellers, 11-0 win v Malampa Revivors
Semifinal v AS Tefana: 2-0 away and 2-0 at home (4-0 on aggregate)

Team Wellington
Group stage:
4-1 win v Puaikura, 3-1 win v Hienghene Sport, 8-0 win v Ba
Semifinal v AS Magenta: 2-2 draw away and 7-1 win at home (9-3 on aggregate)

 - Stuff

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