New balls to be chased

Words: Terry Maddaford

Thursday 1 October 2009

Picture: Phototek NZ

Auckland City yesterday unveiled their secret weapon ahead of Thursday's Fifa Club World Cup clash with Al Ahli.

Bringing an international flavour to their squad, City coach Paul Posa introduced Lebanese international Nadine Schtakleff to his players at breakfast and then unleashed her in the training session at the impressive Al Jazira club a little later.

Good enough to play for Lebanon's national side 20 times, midfielder Schtakleff quickly settled into her work, proudly wearing City's blue training strip, and showing deft skills in enthusiastically going toe-to-toe with the City players.

Attached to the City camp as their team liaison assistant, Schtakleff has been a popular addition to the management group in her first Fifa assignment.

She is a natural for the task.

Born in Lebanon but living in Abu Dhabi since she was a few weeks old, 24-year-old Schtakleff speaks English and Arabic fluently and a couple of other languages as well. She is the ideal go-between in answering the demands in the busy times leading up to such tournaments.

"I went to school here in Abu Dhabi and then did a finance degree at university in Lebanon before going on to work as a banker," said Schtakleff after her training field stint. "It was while I was back there I was invited to play for the national team. I was happy to do that and I was handed the captaincy for a few years."

She is now torn between playing for Lebanon or her adopted homeland.

"I play for the Abu Dhabi Health and Fitness Club which is basically the UAE national team," she said.

Later in the day she again was at training -- this time with her club team in one of their three weekly sessions.

Along with the City players, Schtakleff got to kick about with Fifa's new Jabulani World Cup ball which will be used for the first time at the CWC.

Dave SThe City camp received their 40-ball allocation and wasted no time in putting them to the test.Unlike some of the City players who somehow managed to fire the Chinese-made balls into orbit -- and over the highest fences imaginable behind the goals -- Schtakleff stayed on the planet.

With balls sent flying on to the roof of a nearby complex, Dave "Spiderman" Stringer was soon spotted scurrying up the ladder in pursuit of the impressive balls with a $170 price tag.

Later in the day Posa and captain Ivan Vicelich joined their Al Ahli counterparts in the first of two pre-match media conferences.

The biggest talking point was the fitness of Al Ahli's Brazilian star Bare. Coach Madhi Ali was quick to assure the gathered media that he would be ready to play.

"Yesterday we had good news," said Ali. "There has been a big improvement in his health. The probability of him joining us for training tomorrow is strong."

Asked about any change of tactics for the tournament opener, Ali said: "You will see all about the new tactics on the ground [against City]."

And questioned about City’s weaknesses, Ali quickly said: "They will be very organised, very fit and will play well as a team. I think it will not be an easy match."

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