Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

New Zealand: Race for the Play-Offs hots up

Posted in Oceania Football by peterbein on February 2, 2010
Auckland City FC

Auckland City FC, seen here celebrating the 2008-09 New Zealand Football Championship, are leading the way in the 2009-10 tournament.

The continuing rivalry between Auckland City and Waitakere United dominated the proceedings in the latest round of fixtures in the New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC). With both teams level on points before the game a win for either side would increase their chances of finishing first in the regular season standings. But there was more than just points at stake in this clash of the titans.

Since the beginning of the NZFC in 2004-05 these two city rivals have dominated the league. Auckland City have won the most championships winning four out of five available thus far (the only exception was Waitakere’s win in 2008) whilst Waitakere United have been crowned “Minor Premiers” (i.e. have topped the regular season standings) three times out of five with Auckland City being successful twice. The fact that the Minor Premiers and the overall champions qualify for the OFC Champions League means that these two arch-rivals have been perennial representatives of New Zealand. Since Australian clubs ceased to participate in the tournament following their move on to the Asian football scene, New Zealand’s big two have won the last four tournaments between them. Auckland City are the current OFC Champions League holders having beaten Koloale FC in last year’s final but were also successful in 2006, whilst Waitakere United won back-to-back tournaments in 2007 and 2008 so their rivalry is more than just a local dispute.

Auckland City began the game on Saturday unbeaten with 19 points from seven games, hosts Waitakere United were level on points albeit having played two games more than the league leaders. A crowd of just over two thousand witnessed the latest chapter of a fixture which always has something riding on the result. Unfortunately the crowd didn’t witness any goals in the first half although both sides did hit the woodwork on one occasion each. Thankfully for the expectant crowd it didn’t take long for the deadlock to be broken once the second half got under way. A header from Auckland City’s Chad Coombes opened the scoring on 53 minutes and they proceeded to take the game to their opponents for the next fifteen minutes. However the home side equalized in the 70th minute after some poor defending following a corner kick allowed Waitakere’s Tim Myers to prod home from close range. The final twenty minutes of the match saw the home side, buoyed by the equalizer, take the game to the champions but they were unable to grab that crucial second goal.

Elsewhere in the NZFC the chase for the fourth spots in the post-season Play-Offs remains tight although third-place Otago United cemented their place by defeating fourth-place Team Wellington 3-1. Team Wellington will now be looking over their shoulder as fifth-place Canterbury United, whose game at Hawkes Bay United was postponed, are only a point behind with two games in hand. The exotically named YoungHeart Manawatu blew their chance to go fourth when they lost 3-2 at home to Waikato FC whose win took them off the bottom of the standings, one point ahead of Hawkes Bay United. With each team playing fourteen matches in the regular season there is still a lot to play for especially as there is no relegation in the eight team NZFC and, therefore, the race for the Play-Offs is just starting to hot up in New Zealand.

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