Auckland City FC are into their first OFC Champions League final since 2017 after a well-earned 2-0 semi-final win over Central Coast FC of the Solomon Islands.
Adam Mitchell’s smart finish and Dylan Manickum’s superb stoppage time effort proved the difference between the two sides at Ngahue Reserve as the New Zealand side chase a record-extending tenth title.
The two teams came into the fixture with polarising experience levels at this stage of continental football, Auckland City playing in their ninth OCL semi-final and Central Coast, on tournament debut, their first.
That difference was clear throughout the opening 45 minutes, with Albert Riera’s side happy to keep possession on home soil, with Central Coast hoping to use the pace and power of Junior Fordney on the counter-attack.
For all their dominance, it took a set-play for Auckland City to break the deadlock. A well-worked free-kick saw Ryan De Vries’ strike trickle through to Mitchell, who dragged the opening goal beyond Phillip Mango.
Central Coast were much improved after the break, spurred on by their vocal supporters at Ngahue Reserve, but were nearly caught on the break, with Mango denying De Vries one-v-one.
Auckland defender Sam Brotherton will be disappointed he did not stretch the lead, heading over from close-range before Manickum twice came close to sealing the win.
Cam Howieson’s rocket from the edge of the box cannoned off the crossbar as Auckland City chased a second, with Gerard Garriga also coming close.
Central Coast were not even formed the last time an OFC Champions League semi-final took place, so their presence in the final four was already a huge achievement for the Solomon Islands side but they nearly forced an extra 30 minutes late on.
Javin Wae’s cross found Jeffery Bule with his back to goal, but the Central Coast player could only flick his header wide before Manickum sprinkled some magic on the fixture.
The Auckland City winger cut inside from the left before hitting a dipping effort over the helpless Mango to secure the win and the continued pursuit of a tenth OFC title against AS Vénus in Wednesday’s final.
Auckland City FC 1 (Adam MITCHELL 20’, Dylan MANICKUM 90+5)
Central Coast FC 0