Words: ACFC Media
Tuesday 29 November 2016
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Victory at the FIFA Club World Cup for Auckland City FC could be a game changer according to their All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis.
Lewis and his Auckland City FC team-mates left New Zealand this morning for their club's eighth FIFA Club World Cup campaign desperate to cause an upset against the J.League winners on December 8.
Those opponents will be either Kashima Antlers or Urawa Red Diamonds who play a two-legged final on November 29 and December 3 to decide the Japanese title and Lewis is champing at the bit to get started.
"A victory for us could change the way people in New Zealand view not only the Stirling Sports Premiership but the game in general and we're desperate to make that happen.
"A good performance by us at the Club World Cup can give the game a boost and with the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and FIFA Confederations Cup coming up the timing is perfect.
"Last year showed how tough it is to match the J.League winners but we have prepared pretty well and have two good warm-up games to sharpen up for Japan," Lewis said.
Head coach Ramon Tribulietx named his squad for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 last week but injuries have forced some last minute changes but also the return of a familiar face.
Tribulietx's squad contains 10 players from the Navy Blues side that won bronze at the Club World Cup in Morocco as well the inclusion of former Wellington Phoenix midfielder Albert Riera back for his third FIFA Club World Cup with the club and his first since 2012.
The loss of All Whites midfielder Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi to a long term knee injury is a blow though his loss is tempered somewhat by the addition of one-cap All White Harshae Raniga, himself coming back from a long term injury.
Former Real Sociedad goalkeeper, Enaut Zubikarai, could be an important figure as the Navy Blues look to take their impressive defensive record in the Stirling Sports Premiership onto the world stage.
Zubikarai made his name as back-up to current Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and has tasted UEFA Champions League action having made over 100 appearances in La Liga until he was released last June.
With Lewis, Riera, plus former Croatia age group international Mario Bilen and skipper Angel Berlanga - poised to equal the record number of appearances at this tournament held by Daniel Koprivcic - there's no shortage of experience to draw on.
Upfront is where the margins become finer with Auckland City FC scoring just ten goals in their first seven domestic matches meaning a lot of expectation rests on the shoulders of Ryan De Vries, Joao Moreira, Micah Lea'alafa and Emiliano Tade.
Sean Cooper, 18, is drafted into the squad from Auckland City FC's National Youth League side following injury to team-mate Yousif Al-Khalisy while assistant coach Ivan Vicelich has been picked as a late replacement though unlikely to be required for action.
Auckland City FC play two friendlies prior to the Club World Cup playoff with the J.League winners against Hong Kong Rangers at Kitchee Sports Centre on November 29 and SC Sagamihara on December 2.
Lewis says the Navy Blues are looking forward to using these matches to test themselves against opposition he hopes will provide a taste of whats to come.
“These two matches against quality strong opposition are an important part of our preparations leading into the Club World Cup.
"J-League teams play quick, technical, football and we're hoping to see that in the games coming up with Hong Kong Rangers and SC Sagamihara.
“We've got a good track record against professional opponents and we're excited about the games," he said.
Auckland City FC land in Hong Kong late Monday night and are straight into action when they play their first match at the Kitchee Sports Centre at 6pm local time.
Hong Kong Rangers, founded in 1958, have won one national league title and two domestic cups but finished eighth in the local top flight last season.
FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016
Auckland City FC :1. Enaut Zubikarai (GK), 3. Takuya Iwata, 4. Mario Bilen, 5. Angel Berlanga (c), 6. Harshae Raniga, 7. Reid Drake, 8. Albert Riera, 9. Darren White, 10. Ryan De Vries, 11. Fabrizio Tavano, 12. Nicolai Berry, 13. Alfie Rogers, 14. Clayton Lewis, 15. Ivan Vicelich, 16. Dae Wook Kim, 17. Joao Moreira, 18. Danyon Drake (GK), 19. Micah Lea'alafa, 20. Emiliano Tade, 21. Harry Edge, 23. Marko Dordevic, 24. Jacob Spoonley (GK), 29. Sean Cooper.
Coach: Ramon Tribulietx
Tuesday 29 November, 2016
Hong Kong Rangers v Auckland City FC
Kitchee Sports Centre, Hong Kong
Kick-off: 6pm local time / 11pm NZST
Tuesday 2 December, 2016
SC Sagamihara v Auckland City FC
Hyonda Stadium, Japan
Kick-off: 2pm local time
FIFA Club World Cup - Playoff
Thursday 8 December, 2016
J.League Winner v Auckland City FC
Yokohama International Stadium, Japan
Kick-off: 7.45pm local time
Media Contact in Hong Kong
M: +64 21 454 846
Sun 6 Jan 2018, kick-off 2pm NZST, Trusts Arena