O-League: Auckland City wins on penalty shootout to seal first grand final spot after famous match against Ifira Black Bird

The first semifinal of the 2023 OFC Champions League at Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila was a memorable clash between Ifira Black Bird and Auckland City. The hosts, Ifira Black Bird, put on a strong performance against the defending champions, Auckland City, despite falling short in the penalty shootout after a thrilling 2-2 draw in normal time and extra time.

Ifira Black Bird started the match with great momentum, buoyed by the support of their passionate home crowd. The Vanuatu champions created several scoring opportunities through their talented front trio, consisting of Godine Tenene, Jonathan Spokeyjack, and Jordy Tasip. Auckland City had to battle in the first half, and just before the break, Ifira took the lead when Kerry Iawak finished a magnificent volley after an assist from Spokeyjack. The crowd erupted with joy, celebrating their team’s success.

In the second half, Ifira continued their impressive display. A well-delivered cross from Jean-Pierre Taussi found Godine Tenene inside the penalty box, who headed the ball home to extend Ifira’s lead to 2-0. However, the introduction of the veteran striker Ryan de Vries proved to be a turning point for Auckland City. De Vries quickly made an impact, scoring with a header from a free kick to bring his team back into the game.

Minutes later, Ifira’s goalkeeper, Andreas Duch, made a crucial save to deny Dylan Manickum from close range, keeping his team’s lead intact. However, the match took a dramatic twist when Timothy Boulet, defender for Ifira Black Bird, received his second yellow card and was sent off, leaving Ifira with ten men on the field. Despite Duch’s heroic efforts, Ryan de Vries capitalized on a mistake in the dying minutes, as the ball slipped from the goalkeeper’s hands, allowing de Vries to equalize and send the match into extra time.

Auckland City players celebrate – OFC Media

In the additional 30 minutes, Auckland City took control and created numerous scoring chances. They came close to scoring when Chinese midfielder Tong Zhou hit the post, and in the final moments of the game, Samuel Kaloros cleared the ball off the line to save Ifira from conceding. With neither team able to find a winner, the match proceeded to a penalty shootout.

The penalty shootout was a nerve-wracking affair, with all nine initial penalties being successfully converted. Unfortunately for Ifira Black Bird, defender Thomas Napaukarana saw his penalty saved by Auckland City goalkeeper Conor Tracey, securing another final appearance for the New Zealand powerhouse.

Despite falling short in the end, Ifira Black Bird’s strong performance and the electric atmosphere in the crowded stadium will be celebrated as a remarkable moment in the history of Oceania football. Auckland City will now regroup and prepare to defend their title in the upcoming final in Port Vila, aiming to continue their dominance in the OFC Champions League.

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