After all the build-up and expectation, the first leg of the Oceania Champions League Final 2017 is done and dusted. And a more one-sided affair it would be difficult to remember. The travelling Wellington fans will have left Kiwitea Street wondering what happened to their Stirling Sports Premiership winning side from weeks past.

Let’s be clear. Auckland City thoroughly deserved their win. They dominated from the very first whistle with Emiliano Tade and João Moreira making the early running and putting the Team Wellington defence under all sorts of pressure. Indeed, the first real chance came in the first minute with Emiliano Tade finding himself in space in the box and getting a shot away which was brilliantly tipped over by Scott Basalaj. Warning signs were there for Team Wellington.

Clayton Lewis was another who provided a threat for Auckland City, causing problems in wide areas. And Team Wellington seemed to be particularly vulnerable out wide.

Lack Of Protection And Punch

But what was most clear to the watching fans was how little protection there was for the Team Wellington back line from the midfield. Tade, Moreira and Howieson constantly found space in between the midfield and the two centre-halves in particular – Bill Robertson and Guillermo Moretti. It’s something Jose Figueira’s side will have to tighten up on in the return leg as they need four goals to take the title and secure a place in the FIFA Club World Cup.

One major disappointment for Team Wellington was the lack of punch up front. With Auckland pressurising the Wellington midfield and defence almost constantly, Tom Jackson and Joel Stevens were isolated quite easily by Auckland and the lack of service was telling. Indeed, Enaut Zubikarai won’t have too many easier afternoons than this. The only real chance Wellington created was a free-kick on 25 minutes when Joel Stevens sent his effort over the wall and just wide of Zubikarai’s upright.

A Positive

There are two positives that Jose Figueira can take away from Kiwitea Street and back to the capital today. The most obvious is that the final score was only 3-0. It could, and should, have been far more and nobody would have begrudged this efficient Auckland side a 7-0 or 8-0 win. The margin was that large. Overturning a 3-0 deficit is certainly doable but it will take a lot of stamina and effort from TW. Although the third goal came very late and will be a hammer blow to TW, the staff and players will feel they can overcome it.

The second positive is the reason it was only 3-0. Two words, Scott Basalaj. The TW stopper was absolutely inspired today and pulled out save after save of real quality. From the first minute and the save from Tade, Basalaj was a thorn in the side of Auckland’s forward line. It culminated in a penalty save on 77 minutes.

Auckland had already dispatched one penalty in the first half through João Moreira and the Portuguese striker earned his side a second after a challenge from Moretti. Whilst the laws of the game state it should have indeed been a penalty, Moreira threw himself to the ground in theatrical fashion. It was the native of Lourinhã who stepped up to then take the penalty himself but, as with the first which Basalaj got a hand to and was unlucky not to keep out, Moreira sent the ball low and not particularly hard which meant Basalaj was able to get down well and keep it out. It was a save his Man of the Match performance merited.

Looking Ahead

And so next Sunday sees the 2nd leg at David Farrington Park in Wellington. Jose Figueira’s side have an absolute mountain to climb if they’re to secure the title and, has he has stated on Twitter after today’s game, the side will leave everything on the pitch. They’ll need to as this impressive Auckland City side are more than capable of going and winning the 2nd leg too.

The key for Wellington will be to attack Auckland from the off but keeping it tight at the back too. The best thing for Ramon Tribulietx’s side to score an early goal and effectively kill the tie. Surely 4-0 on aggregate would be too much for Wellington to come back from? A back three would be ideal for Wellington with a five-man midfield consisting of a holding player and two wide men who can act as full-backs whenever Auckland are in possession. Captain, Bill Robertson, would be ideal to sit in the middle of a back three as, despite his leadership and experience, he’s not the most mobile. Either side will require players who are quick and can get out to cover the wing-backs if ever they’re caught out of position.

Playing with a holding man will give the back three that extra protection with two central midfielders who are given license to attack when in possession. They will support the a front two which means the strikers will be less isolated.

As for Auckland, well it’s a case of as you were. It’s doubtful that Tribulietx will feel the need to change anything from today’s game. The side attacked well and have protection at the back with Albert Rieira sitting just in front of the back four. If Lewis, Made and Moreira can attack with fluency as they did today, they’ll continue to cause Team Wellington problems. Although if TW do switch to a back three, it may mean Moreira becoming isolated.

Whatever happens, there will be a big crowd at David Farrington Park and doubtless Auckland City will be well-represented by their fantastic supporters too. So, half-time it is and a lot of football still to be played!

Auckland City – 3 (Moreira 19′, 28′ pen; De Vries ’89)
1. Enaut ZUBIKARAI – 3. Takuya IWATA, 4. Mario BILEN (11. Fabrizio TAVANO 77′), 5. Angel BERLANGA (C), 6. Cam HOWIESON, 8. Albert RIERA, 9. Darren WHITE, 14. Clayton LEWIS, 16. Daewook KIM, 17, Joao MOREIRA (7. Reid DRAKE 90’+2), 20. Emiliano TADE (10. Ryan DE VRIES ’65)
Unused Substitutes: 18. Danyon DRAKE (RGK), 13. Alfie ROGERS, 19. Micah LEA’ALAFA, 21. Harry EDGE
Coach: Ramon Tribulietx

Team Wellington – 0
1. Scott BASALAJ – 2. Justin GULLEY, 4. Guillermo MORETTI, 5. Bill ROBERTSON (C), 7. Leo VILLA (21. Niko KIRWAN 77′), 9. Tom JACKSON, 11. Mario BARCIA, 12. Andy BEVIN, 15. Joel STEVENS, 18. Nicolas ZAMBRANO (16. Ben HARRIS 61′), 19. Joshua MARGETTS (10. Nathanael HAILEMARIAM 81′)
Unused Substitutes: 23. James McPEAKE (RGK), 6. Taylor SCHRIJVERS, 14. Billy SCOTT, 17. Sam BLACKBURN
Coach: Jose Figueira

My Man of the Match: Scott Basalaj (Team Wellington)

by Paul Gellard