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Monday, May 22, 2006

OFC Finals---Auckland FC to represent the Oceania Region in Tokyo

Auckland City hit the jackpot yesterday when they beat Tahitian champions AS Pirae 3-1 to win the lucrative Oceania Club Championship at North Harbour Stadium.

With the match being on a Sunday, the Tahitians had three of their squad, including skipper Naea Bennett, unavailable for religious reasons.

Victory was worth $US1 million ($NZ1.6 million), with Auckland and their players splitting 60 percent of the windfall between them.

Auckland will also head to Japan in December for the FIFA Club World Cup where they will play a first-round eliminator against the Japanese J-League champions, with the winners progressing into the main draw.

Pirae, who eliminated City from last year's tournament, had conceded just three goals in four games before the final, but found themselves 0-2 down by halftime.

They had their share of half chances in an even opening, particularly when striker Desmond Faauiaso came close with a crisply struck drive from 25m.

But Jordan swung the game City's way in the 24th minute. A freekick from skipper Neil Sykes was met sweetly by the South African, whose header gave goalkeeper Jonathon Torohia no chance.

Pirae had a great opportunity to equalise when striker Jose Hmae beat the offside trap, but he couldn't find the net when one-on-one with goalkeeper Ross Nicholson.

Five minutes before the break, Auckland pulled further ahead. Graham Little's ball into the box was headed down by Grant Young to Jordan, whose first shot was blocked by the goalkeeper. But Jordan was quickest to react and he made no mistake with his second bite.

He completed his hat-trick from the penalty box after he was brought down by Torohia in the 63rd minute. Pirae kept battling to the end and Faauiaso scored a consolation goal with seven minutes remaining with a nicely struck left-foot shot inside the box.

The result means Auckland City and the club's players will share 60 percent of the prizemoney, while the seven other NZFC franchises receive 30 percent.

The remaining 10 percent will be reinvested into the game by New Zealand Soccer.

Auckland coach Allan Jones, guiding the franchise for the last time before taking over as coach of the New Zealand women's team, said winning the final was the culmination of three years' work.

During that time, City had won the first two NZFC titles, but the Oceania club crown was ``the ultimate of what it's about''. "From a coach's point of view, we're quite satisfied with the work we've done,'' he said.

"But all credit to the players tonight. It was a huge team performance. Nobody stepped down. Everybody stepped right up.'' Jones particularly praised midfielder Matt Cunneen, who was given a brief to keep a tight rein on the talented Jose Hmae.

"He had the hardest job to do tonight,'' he said. "He had a man-to-man job on Hmae, who is probably the most technical player in Oceania at the moment, and he was quite outstanding.''

Jones also described Young's contribution throughout the entire tournament as ``first-class''.


A hat-trick to livewire Solomon Islands striker Benjamin Totori yesterday helped Manawatu to a 4-0 win over Fijian club Eagles United in the playoff for third.

However, Totori might have doubled his personal tally at the outer oval at North Harbour Stadium.

He spurned three good early chances and then had a late shot deflected on to the woodwork by goalkeeper Sinione Tamanisau.

Fellow Solomon Islands international Alick Maemae added a fourth for Manawatu with a tidy finish from an acute angle.

Maemae had minutes earlier hit a screamer from 30m on to the crossbar.

Having squandered his early opportunities, Totori finally got on the scoreboard after 30 minutes, putting away a square ball from Maemae.

He grabbed his second early in the second half, when fellow striker Campbell Banks' effort rebounded to him.

He tucked away his third, turning in a knockback by Sanjay Singh, despite heavy attention in the box.

Manawatu's pace and interpassing constantly troubled Eagles United, who were reduced to shots from long range.

Eagles' best chance came late in the game, when a through ball by skipper Viliame Toma found Thomas Qoro one-on-one with goalkeeper Jordan Buchanan, but he couldn't finish.

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