New Zealand: Waitakere United seal second title
Waitakere United have won their second New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC) title after a 3-1 defeat of underdogs Canterbury United in Saturday’s final. Canterbury United had shocked everybody by knocking out defending champions Auckland City in the semi-finals and were facing a Waitakere side who, only last week, were heavily defeated in the first leg of the Oceania Champions League final. Waitakere, however, showed their strength to ensure that the NZFC title remains in the city of Auckland, which it has done since the league’s inception in 2004.
Waitakere United were the hosts of the sixth NZFC Grand Final due to their superior record in the regular season. Waitakere finished second in the table just two points behind minor premiers Auckland City. Canterbury United squeaked into the play-offs on the last day of the regular season pipping Otago United into fourth place thanks to a better goal difference. In the semi-finals both teams overcame tough ties with Waitakere United getting the better of Team Wellington on away goals whilst Canterbury United secured an unlikely 4-2 triumph over Auckland City. Canterbury’s only ever appearence in the NZFC final came in the 2005-06 season where they lost to Auckland City in a penalty shoot-out so the Dragons were hoping to go one better this time.
The chances of another shock were increased after just six minutes of the game when Tom Lancaster gave the visiting Canterbury side an early lead. Waitakere were on the back foot but the early goal had the effect of waking up the home side who equalised ten minutes before half-time thanks to prolific Soloman Islands striker Benjamin Totori. The turning point of the game occurred just three minutes later when Canterbury’s Paul Dirou was sent-off after a high challenge on Jason Rowely and, although the first half would finish all square, the home side would make full use of their numerical advantage in the second half. Allan Pearce, who would go on to win the Man of the Match award, gave Waitakere United the lead on 57 minutes shooting home from the edge of the box. The match was sealed seventeen minutes from time when Waitakere captain Jake Butler slipped through a lovely through ball to Benjamin Totori who rounded helpless keeper Tom Batty to score his second goal of the game and give the home side a healthy two goal lead which they saw out easily in the time remaining.
Waitakere United will represent New Zealand in the 2010-11 OFC Champions League (O-League) along with Auckland City who gained the reward for finishing minor premiers. Canterbury United can be proud of their efforts as they came so close to winning the title after having been the worst team in the league in the previous two seasons. For Waitakere United there isn’t much time to celebrate their domestic crown as they hope to overturn a three goal deficit at home to Papua New Guinea side Hekari United in the second leg of the 2009-10 O-League final next Saturday.