Hudson-Wihongi puts hand up for selection

Words: ACFC Media

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Picture: Phototek

AL AIN, UAE - Auckland City FC midfielder Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi has put his name up for selection to face Al Jazira at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday night after making a full recovery from a knee injury.

Hudson-Wihongi suffered a Club World Cup injury heartache last November when a freak knee injury saw him miss the Navy Blues crunch match with Kashima Antlers, but the 22 year old is likely to come under consideration for a place in the Navy Blues line-up to tackle the UAE champions, having shown up well in training and matches since the start of the season.

"It was tough when the injury first happened and I struggled a little bit but I had a superb support network around me to help me through the tough times.

"The start of rehab is always a bit boring but when you start seeing results you start getting more motivated to get to the gym and get back as soon as possible.

"Kicking a ball again was unbelievable. The first training I did was with Central United and we did a passing drill and it was the first time I had completed a session since the previous November and it was a great feeling and it got better from there progressively.

"The injury has motivated me to follow my dreams to one day become a professional player. The hard work wasn't easy but I enjoyed the challenge," he said.

Hudson-Wihongi’s imminent comeback together with the nearing return of fellow midfielder Mario Bilen is set to provide hot competition for places in the Navy Blues midfield.

But with the Navy Blues unbeaten in their last seven matches domestically and internationally, Hudson-Wihongi and Bilen may need to wait for their opportunity. Just keen to be part of the action again, Hudson-Wihongi believes the Oceania champions can cause Al Jazira problems.

"Al Jazira's attacking front three have something special about them and they play in a competitive professional league week-in, week-out. If there is a weakness it may be in how cohesive they are as a team.

"If we can keep the ball and control the game it could work in our favour particularly if their front men don't see the ball very much. Then we have a good chance," Hudson-Wihongi said. 

Adding to Hudson-Wihongi’s desire to want to be part of the Navy Blues squad on Wednesday night is that Auckland City FC hasn't won a Club World Cup game since Morocco 2014. Defeats to Sanfrecce Hiroshima (0-2) and Kashima Antlers (1-2) meant first game eliminations for the Sandringham-based club in 2015 and 2016.

Hudson-Wihongi says he expects a physically tough match after he played a key role in the 0-0 draw with UAE Second Division club Al Ittihad. He says shirking the physical side of the game won't do the New Zealanders any good.

And he says it won't do him any good to have his recent experiences inhibit his natural game. 

"The higher the level of opponent the more physical its going to get in games. We needed a game like the one with Al Ittihad to get us ready for the game with Al Jazira.

"You can't think about the physical side of it. If you go into a challenge half-hearted then you're more likely to be reinjured so I just don't think about it and commit myself to that part of the game as I always have," he said.

A win for Auckland City FC would propel the New Zealanders into a quarter-final with Urawa Red Diamonds and set-up the mouth-watering possibility of a last four showdown with Real Madrid but Hudson-Wihongi hones in on practical realities.

“We have to stay focused on whats in front of us which is the game with Al Jazira," he said.

Bilen’s comeback is not quite up to the stage that Hudson-Wihongi finds himself, this being due to the former Croatian age group international suffering a more recent injury that has kept him out since the second week of the season.

Therefore patience has been an even greater factor for Bilen. But having had previous experience of a knee injury last season he is definitely not taking short cuts to try and get back quicker than expected but could be in the mix for selection before the end of the month.

One element that has helped Hudson-Wihongi through the downtimes while on tour is fellow All Whites and Navy Blues midfielder Cam Howieson. The pair room together and its Howieson's prowess for the Playstation and FIFA 17 that has sparked up a rivalry.

"I've known Cam for a while and I was excited to have him join Auckland City FC. We've known each other for a very long time and he's always giving me grief about beating me at FIFA 17 but I'm ok with that - he has to win at something," Hudson-Wihongi said with a smile.

Auckland City FC meets Al Jazira on Thursday morning at 6am NZST.


AUDIO - Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi

Match Details
FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017
Wednesday 6 December (Thursday 7 December)
Al Jazira v Auckland City FC
Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: 9pm local time (6am NZST)
*Winner advances to the quarter-finals v Urawa Red Diamonds

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