10-times champions, Auckland City of New Zealand came from two goals down to beat Vanuatu’s Ifira Black Bird 5-4 on penalties in the first semifinal of the OFC Champions League at Freshwater Stadium in Port Villa today.
Thomas Napakaurana missed the final penalty kick, to cause heartbreak to a jam-packed home crowd.
Kerry Iawak smashed a superb shot past goalkeeper Conor Tracey into the left hand side of the goal in the 39th minute as the hosts took a 1-0 lead at halftime.
Ifira had no desire to play the ball through the midfield in the second half, sticking to the game plan of sending possession wide to rampaging wings as team mates swarmed up the middle towards the goalmouth, eager to accept crosses.
The locals committed plenty of players forward and pressed with passion throughout the match.
Their second reward emerged in the 60th minute following a yellow card to Den Heijer. The resulting Black Bird free kick wafted to the back post where Godine Tenene managed to head a floater across the line.
Two substitutions changed the complexion of the game as Tong Zhou and Ryan De Vries provided more spark to the Auckland City attack, with De Vries getting a touch on a corner in the 68th minute to reduce the deficit by one.
Drama followed six minutes later when Ifira defender Timothy Boulet received a second yellow card and left the field, leaving 10 team mates to try and defend their one-goal advantage.
Plenty of Auckland City half chances weren’t converted as giant goalkeeper Andreas Duch made multiple crucial saves as every block, every clearance and every break-out was greeted with delight.
But the equaliser finally came in the fifth minute of added time as De Vries latched onto a loose ball in the penalty box and slotted home – stunning the spectators into silence.
Two 15-minute periods of extra time failed to produce any further goal, and the winner had to be decided via spot kicks where City converted all five opportunities and Napakaurana missed for Ifira.