Words: ACFC Media
Thursday 12 November 2020
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - The world may have changed as Auckland City FC kick-off the new ISPS Handa Men's Premiership season but their opponents Eastern Suburbs AFC certainly look familiar.
The two sides last met in Round 16 of last season with the Navy Blues prevailing 2-0 at Madills Farm thanks to goals from Myer Bevan and Brian Kaltak.
Since then the world has been gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in the abrupt halt of the ISPS Handa Premiership last season, the cancellation of the OFC Champions League and the delay of the FIFA Club World Cup to January 2021.
New Zealand has been fortunate to kickstart the season with a new revamped Men's and Women's competition with blanket coverage via Sky Sport and YouTube.
Assistant coach Ivan Vicelich said Covid's impact on last season and the Lotto NRFL had played a part in pre-season preparations.
"We're straight into a big one - it's been an unusual year, coming into (a shortened) pre-season hasn't been ideal but we've done the best we can. The players are motivated again because they experienced lockdown without football and that has given them a bit more fire to get back onto the field.
"But preparations have been pretty good up to now with a couple of friendlies - perhaps not as many as in previous years - but we've made the most of every day and done as much as we can to be prepared for this game," he told www.aucklandcityfc.com.
The Navy Blues played three pre-season games defeating Manukau United (2-0), losing to Hamilton Wanderers (1-2) and beating Waitakere United 2-1 last Sunday.
Vicelich said the difference between the Wanderers and Waitakere performances was pleasing.
"It was an improvement from the week before and to get back out onto the field and give some players some minutes. We created a lot of chances which was good and we played some good football. It was good to finish the friendlies off with a win," he said.
Auckland City FC made two new signings during the off-season with former Melbourne Knights forward Mohamed Awad joining the club but suffering concussion in the loss to Wanderers. Former Canterbury United and Manukau United player Abdulbaset Khalifa also joined the club but has a minor knock.
Vicelich said the club will follow concussion protocols in a bid to return Awad to the pitch in a professional and considered manner.
"Mohamed is an exciting player and we're hoping he can join us very soon. He took a knock to the head with a concussion and he could be two to three weeks away. We have to go through the protocols for return to play and hopefully we see him soon," he said.
One player who has plenty of experience taking on Eastern Suburbs AFC is Alfie Rogers. Rogers passed the 50-match mark for the Navy Blues last season and is under no illusion how difficult Sunday's game will be.
He said keeping fit during lockdown was tough but that he and his team-mates are ready to go.
"It'll be a big game for us to start off with. They're a very good team but we're looking forward to getting back out there after Covid and everyone is just looking forward to playing.
"Eastern Suburbs press very high and come at you very fast so we have to be ready to go straight away. Its a tough test but the boys are ready and it should be a good game to watch.
"We had Adria sending us programmes for running and conditioning during lockdown but it was tough to keep motivation levels high but you just had to do it to and put the work in - we've put the work in and everyone is ready to go," he said.
Two Auckland City FC players set to register key career milestones are Mario Bilen and Emiliano Tade.
Bilen, 35, could make his 150th appearance for the club on Sunday and move to within one appearance of former All Whites midfielder Chad Coombes on 151.
For Tade, a start against the Lilywhites would see him leapfrog Vicelich into third place in the list of all-time club appearances for Auckland City FC.
The game is live on Sky Sport on Sunday 15 November 2020 and kicks off at 4.00pm NZST.
For the live links to all other ISPS Handa Men's Premiership games please visit www.nzfootball.co.nz.
ISPS Handa Men's Premiership
Sunday 15 November, 2020
Auckland City FC v Eastern Suburbs AFC
Kiwitea Street, Auckland
Kick-off: 4.00pm NZST
Live on Sky Sport
AC: 24. Cam BROWN (GK), 2. Mario ILICH, 3. Adam MITCHELL, 4. Mario BILEN, 6. Brian KALTAK, 7. Cam HOWIESON, 8. Albert RIERA, 14. Jordan VALE, 19. Logan ROGERSON, 20. Emiliano TADE, 22. Alfie ROGERS, 18. Conor TRACEY (GK), 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 16. Yousif Ali AL-KALISY, 17. Andrew BLAKE.
COACH: Jose FIGUEIRA.
Saturday 14 November 2020
Canterbury United v Waitakere United
English Park, Christchurch, kick-off: 2.00pm NZST
Wellington Phoenix v Team Wellington
Fraser Park, Lower Hutt, kick-off: 2.00pm NZST
Sunday 15 November 2020
Hawke's Bay United v Hamilton Wanderers
Bluewater Stadium, Napier, kick-off: 2.00pm NZST
35-year-old midfielder and former Croatia age-group international Mario Bilen will make his 150th club appearance, if selected. Bilen joined Auckland City FC in 2012-13 season after a long professional career in Europe. One of the most impressive names among Bilen's former team-mates is Real Madrid and Croatia playmaker Luka Modric. Bilen is just one appearance short of breaking into the top five all-time club appearances behind former All Whites midfielder Chad Coombes on 151.
Emiliano Tade will move into outright third in the club's all-time appearances list, if selected. The Auckland City FC all-time top goalscorer will overtake club legend and current assistant coach, Ivan Vicelich. The top scorer in this fixture is Emiliano Tade with five goals. Tade is Auckland City FC's most prolific goalscorer having netted 112 goals in 171 games for the club since 2010-11.
TOP SIX ALL-TIME CLUB APPEARANCES
1. Angel BERLANGA 214 games/8 goals
2. James PRITCHETT 203/5
3. Ivan VICELICH 171/15
4. Emiliano TADE 171/112
5. Chad COOMBES 151/26
6. Mario BILEN 149/6
Eastern Suburbs AFC are yet to register a victory over Auckland City FC since they rejoined the top flight in 2016-17 season. In nine matches, Auckland City FC have won eight encounters with the spoils shared in a goalless draw at Kiwitea Street last year. Eastern Suburbs AFC have scored just three goals over nine matches in this fixture while the Navy Blues have an aggregate of 16.
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (A) won 1-0 (Emiliano Tade)
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (H) won 2-1 (Joao Moreira, Emiliano Tade) | (Moses Dyer)
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (A) won 2-0 (Emiliano Tade, Micah Lea'alafa)
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (H) won 1-0 (Callum McCowatt)
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (H) won 4-0 (Emiliano Tade 2, Callum McCowatt, Dalton Wilkins)
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (A) won 1-0 (Dylan Manickum)
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (H) won 3-2 (Micah Lea'alafa 2, Brian Kaltak) | (Callum McCowatt, Dominic Wooldridge)
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (H) drew 0-0
v. Eastern Suburbs AFC (A) won 2-0 (Myer Bevan, Brian Kaltak)
v Al Ahly, Tangier, Feb 1 2023, KO: 8pm local