Madang rising to challenge

Sports

MADANG FC face the biggest test of their OFC Champions League campaign when they take on title favourites Auckland FC in the second Group C match today.
Coach Maurie Wasi’s side competed well against Fiji’s Lautoka on Sunday despite a checkered preparation heading into the opening group match.
A short-handed Madang lost 3-1 but proved they could be a dangerous proposition for the other sides in the group.
Qualification for the quarterfinals is within reach of Auckland City and Lautoka, who play Tahiti’s AS Venus, at Auckland’s Trusts Stadium.
After wins on the first day of Group C action on Sunday against AS Venus and Madang respectively, a second victory for both Auckland and Lautoka in the reverse fixtures would see both teams through to the last eight of the competition with a game to spare.
However, that final match between the New Zealand and Fijian clubs on Saturday would then determine home advantage in the next stage.
Should either, or both, teams fail to win today then at least one qualification spot will be up for grabs going into the final day of pool play.
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx knows a win against Papua New Guinea’s Madang FC could seal progress to the knockout stages — step one on the way to claiming an eighth straight OFC Champions League title — he maintains the team’s focus is on the individual match and not the longer-term goals.
“We take it game by game,” Tribulietx said.
“We’re happy with that first performance but this will be a little different. The Tahitians were more physical and maybe more organised out of possession — I think the PNG guys will be a little different and try to hurt us with different weapons. We just focus on this game and take it step-by-step.”
Auckland’s opponents Madang have had more to worry about in the build-up to the tournament but the arrival of more players to the skeletal squad of 12 available for the defeat to Lautoka gives coach Wasi a few more options.
Wasi was pleased with not only the application of his side against Lautoka also with their effectiveness in creating chances, although the inability to capitalise on more than one ultimately proved their undoing.
They now face an even sterner test against a team that has yet to concede a goal.
Wasi said his team had no shortage of motivation with their quarterfinal hopes on the line against the defending Oceania champions.
“Most of these players have not played a team of the calibre of Auckland City so they are looking forward to it and they know it’s going to be a very tough challenge,” Wasi said
“We will go out there and play for the people of Madang province, for the boys themselves and their families — because they’ve sacrificed a lot for the boys to come out — we’re just going to go out there and play for the ones that really care about our football.”
On paper at least the early kick off between Venus and Lautoka looks toughest to call and the most pivotal to the eventual group make-up.
Venus were soundly beaten 7-0 by defending champions Auckland but coach Sam Garcia said he was always treating that first match as a benchmark while targeting the game against Lautoka.
“Auckland are on a different level to the rest of the Pacific and so there’s no sadness about that result. But Lautoka will be more of an even match for us — I believe we are on a similar level,” Garcia said.
“We’re ready for the challenge. Before arriving in New Zealand we planned how it would go. I was very happy to play Auckland City first because they have won the last seven OFC Champions Leagues and I know it would be a good experience for us.”
Garcia added that in their planning process their hopes of advancing from the group always hinged on this match against the Fijian champions.
“For our team the most important moment was going to be Venus-Lautoka. After that we will know if we go on our way home or we work towards getting another win on Saturday.”
Lautoka, who are second in Group C on goal difference following their win over a short-handed Madang, are not taking the Tahitians lightly.
Coach Kamal Swamy was full of respect for Venus.
“We shouldn’t take anything from Venus’ performance — they were playing against Auckland City but they may have a different strategy against us. It will again be a tough match for us,” said Swamy.
“Venus have nothing to lose now and they would like to qualify for the quarterfinals, so they will give everything in this game. It will be tough.”
Fixtures: Wed, Feb 28 – AS Venus v Lautoka FC, Auckland City v Madang FC.

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