The Premmy Files – OFC Champions League Quarters

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Oh so you thought that Premmy Files was over? Nah mate, plenty more going on even as the season’s come to its glamorous conclusion (seriously, how good were Eastern Suburbs!). The winter club season’s well underway now but Team Wellington and Auckland City still have another few weeks of challenging for silverware as the Champions League hits its latter stages.

Auckland City went first. They played on Satruday arvo at Kiwitea Street, up against a very decent Lae City team outta Papua New Guinea. Considering that two of the very best players in the Premiership last season were from PNG, Tommy Semmy and David Browne, that’s enough to keep you on your game right there. Sure enough Lae City were the first team to threaten the goal as Jacob Suba skipped into the penalty area and cut one back to the near post, the City defence able to hack it away.

Auckland City didn’t hold anything back with their starting eleven. Ramon Tribulietx named the exact same team that lost to Team Wellington a couple weeks back in the Premmy semi. Which meant Maro Bonsu-Maro up front. It meant David Browne up against a bunch of his international teammates. It meant Super Zubi and Angel Berlanga. Cam Howieson and Albert Riera. All the big guns. Except for Micah Lea’alafa coz no idea what happened to him… must be injured?

Anyway, this was a proper competitive first half. City probably should’ve scored when keeper Mosie Milubwa spilled one at the feet of MBM but his rushed shot was cleared away. Then Zubikarai had to be sharp to tip one over the bar from a sneaky corner routine. But City know how to win these games and after their patient start they began to turn the screws and of course it was David Browne who broke the deadlock just before the break. Skipped onto a ball through from Dylan Manickum and his chipped finish over the rushing keeper was b-e-a-utiful. Didn’t celebrate at all, which was classy of him.

Then Browne simply took over in the second half. He scored a brilliant second goal showing great pace down the left before jinking past a couple defenders to score with the keeper left flat-footed. Tavano nearly added a third but his shot came back off the frame of the goal. No worries, he set one up soon after with a corner kick nodded in by Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi. Which left just enough time for Browne to complete his hatty in typical fashion. Gliding in from the left, smashing one back across his body. Edge of the area. Not a problem. 4-0 to Auckland City and they’re into the semis.

Ramon Tribulietx: “We have dominated the game completely with the ball in difficult conditions. Lae were very aggressive in the first half and throughout the game, pressing very high which made our life very difficult during the opening exchanges. But once we understood their game plan we started to create chances and especially in the second half we were clearly on top.”

And yet another clean sheet for this fella, who must have a fair chuck of them in his double-ton…

What an absolute champion of a player Angel Berlanga is. First team in the Premmy Files 2018-19 First XI too, if you didn’t hear. Big news. Might as well check out the rest of those teams while you’re here… though try remember it’s all fun and games and it ain’t meant to be taken it too seriously. There’s no scientific way of formulating these things so don’t be one of the grumpy buggers.

Team Wellington were also at home, a day later on Sunday, which meant Dave Farrington Park against Henderson Eels of the Solomon Islands. Team Welly couldn’t keep things unchanged, obviously Aaron Clapham was going to be unavailable after his horrific injury in the Premmy final. They also missed Nati Hailemariam and Andy Bevin from that final, which led to both Eric Molloy and Henry Cameron starting. Pretty cool since those two usually just get alternated at right wingback. Adam Mitchell was back after missing the Prem final with injury… but pretty devastatingly he only lasted half of the first half before he was replaced injured by Dan Mulholland. Not sure what that means for his availability the rest of the tournament. Mitchell was such a clutch signing for this team but injury has meant he hasn’t been able to be the force they hoped for, which sucks. That Team Welly defence can’t seem to catch a break these days.

Luckily they do have the Guernsey GOAT though. Ross Allen showed his goal scoring prowess in the 18th min as he drove the lads in front. Angus Kilkolly was in the right place at the right time to make it 2-0 after the defence stuttered expecting an offside flag in the lead up. The TeeDubs looking good in the chilly capital weather… but just before the break they let their visitors back into it when Alex Palezevic fouled Tuti Zama Tanito, giving away a penalty which Tanito stepped up to bury himself.

Nah but Jose Figueira must have said the right words at the half because they came straight back out and scored through a simple header at the far post from Jack-Henry Sinclair. Allen then slammed in his second and promptly headed in his third from a lovely Kilkolly cross. Doing the business as always. Ross Allen has scored in all four games of this season’s tournament. And he’s not just scored but he’s done it in bundles. 11 goals in four games. So good.

At that point it was in the bag but JHS added a sixth goal to make sure. An impressive second half from Team Welly just as ACFC had gassed it in the back half in their game as well. Both kiwi sides advancing to the semi-finals, which are no longer double-legged, and they’ll play back to back in New Caledonia on Sunday 28 April for a place in the grand final. Team Wellington are up against Hienghene Sport while Auckland City face AS Magenta. Both those two teams are from New Caledonia so despite winning every game up until this point, the kiwi sides are both effectively playing as the away teams in those games. Eh, do it the hard way or don’t do it at all.

But wait there’s more. Eastern Suburbs aren’t in the Champions League this season but they will be next time, although who knows what their team will look like by then? So many of their best players are poised for bigger things overseas and with a bunch of them heading for the U20 Club World Cup that’s likely to put fellas like Callum McCowatt, Nando Pijnaker, and Dalton Wilkins in the spotlight even more.

Of course, fellas like them were with the club as part of the connection with Ole Academy, who continue to churn out brilliant young kiwi players. And the Ole crew don’t sleep so no sooner had they help contribute to a Premiership winning run than they’d locked up a partnership with Torslanda in Sweden. Check out the scoop from Stuff for the full story (in case I’m bastardising facts or something).

Torslanda isn’t the flashiest club. They’re only in the fourth tier of footy in Sweden. But the plan will be to build this thing up with a promotion or two over the next couple years, ideally with a strong influence from a handful of kiwi players. For now, Ole figurehead Declan Edge has gone over in some kind of coaching/football-director capacity. With him in Sweden are players Harry Edge and Owen Parker-Price – arguably the two most impressive Ole products from that Suburbs squad who aren’t involved in the U20 scene at the moment.

Having that initial avenue into European football is huge and there are so many kiwi players who go over there, struggle to get settled, and soon find themselves back in the motherland. So it’s hard not to love a situation like this where young kiwi players can get that leg up into the professional scene, especially after how successful the partnership was with Eastern Suburbs this season. As to why this club in particular? Easy enough: Ole technical director Ben Sippola used to play there and he and Dan Keat, an Ole old boy who played a lot of his career in Sweden, were apparently the links. Then chuck in Mike Wilson (Ole’s director of business development) to do the hard yards and there you go. Keat’s now working for the club as the ‘academy's director of special programmes’.

This won’t be like the Chelsea/Vitesse partnership which is basically just a way for Chelsea to loan players out nice and easy. Nor like the problematic shared ownership deals of a few other clubs out there, most notably the Manchester City empire. Nope, this is different because the feeder club is the one with the power, the professional and geographical leverage, so it should be a much healthier transaction where each side gets something beneficial. As long as it works out as planned… which is a concern because a quick google shows up an article from Sweden in December which hinted at these negotiations and included a bit of snap-back from the locals, quoting a disgruntled parent of an academy player who was apparently “very critical from the first time I heard it”. But the rest of that article’s buried behind a subscription paywall so… yeah.

It’s hard to predict how this will go, but if it does click then it could be massive for getting some of the country’s best prospects into the European pro scene. For it to be a full success you’d hope the club are able to push for promotion this season. That’ll be the plan anyway. One more fascinating twist in the ever-growing Flying Kiwis universe so we’ll sit back and see how it goes.

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