Spies left guessing

Words: Terry Maddaford

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Picture: Phototek NZ

The Al Ahli spying mission to check out Auckland City ahead of next week’s Club World Cup clash in Abu Dhabi might prove largely futile. Their look-see at last night’s game was complicated by a team sheet which listed only the player’s Christian names and had three of the starting X1 listed in the “substation.”
Frustrated by the delayed start -- for prayers -- to City’s match against Al Fujairah Sports Club, coach Madhi Ali would then have learned little as the visitors claimed a deserved 2-1 win over the second division UAE side.
Only Sam Campbell and Chad Coombes played the full 90 minutes as coach Paul Posa gave all players -- apart from captain Ivan Vicelich -- game time. Vicelich, nursing a slight hamstring strain, was not risked but there is no suggestion he will not be fit for Wednesday’s game.
The game was played in near perfect conditions with agreeable temperatures and humidity throughout with only the tufty nature of the pitch causing any even minor concern.
The City defence was given an early wake-up call when local star, Nigerian striker Nowah got on the end of a long ball as the home side, defending the first of City’s four first half corners, quickly turned defence into attack. With just goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley to beat, Nowah fired just wide.
Five minutes later City took the lead when Coombes played the ball to James Pritchett who fired in a good cross from the right but in attempting to clear, and under no pressure, one of the Fujairah defenders turned the ball into his own goal with his goalkeeper stranded at the near post.
That lead, after 10 minutes settled the City players who had a good chance to double their advantage in the 26th minute when another pin-point Pritchett cross, after a strong over-lapping run, picked out Matt Williams but his close range header never threatened.
Nowah was again in the action in the 28th minute when he fired in a free kick from the edge of the area. Spoonley palmed down and Campbell cleaned up. The home team’s best chance of the opening half came three minutes later when Mohamed Ahmed was left free in front of the City goal but he hooked his shot over Spoonley’s goal.
The last say of the spell was with the visitors when Daniel Kopricvic controlled the ball well, beat his marker and slipped a nice pass to Coombes who ran into the penalty area and slotted a good goal for a handy 2-0 halftime lead.
The home side should have got one back five minutes into the second half when substitute Riki Van Steeden and one of the Fujairah players fell over each other and the referee pointed to the spot. Nowah stepped forward but blasted his penalty attempt high and wide giving replacement goalkeeper Paul Gothard no concerns.
The hosts did get one back in the 74th minute when Nowah was finally rewarded as when he ran through the flat-footed City defence and fired a low shot home.
The last scoring chance fell to City when Paul Urlovic ran through and played a good ball to the far post but Grant Young’s header hit the turf and bounced over the goal.
Posa was happy with what his players had given him and in getting through the game without injury.
“It was a good game. They were committed and you could see they really wanted a result,” said Posa. “In the first half we controlled the game and got our rewards. The changes [six] we made at halftime were all planned and in the end everyone got a run.
“I was quite pleased with what I saw. It was a well worthwhile exercise. They played the style of game we were looking for. We mixed it up a lot and defended from the middle third only which is what we were looking to do.”
Tonight it will be the turn of the Auckland City coaching staff to go on a spying mission when they watch Al Ahli play a premier league game in the local competition. Unlike last night’s game which was almost certainly videoed by Al Ahli, it seems that right might be denied the City staff under an obscure rule governing filming in the stadium.

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