Pace picks up

Words: Terry Maddaford

Thursday 1 October 2009

Picture: Phototek NZ

The stark reality of competing in a FIFA tournament is staring to hit home for the Auckland City players as the momentum gathers pace in the countdown to their tournament opener against Dubai’s Al Alhi on Thursday morning (NZ time).
What were more or less casual trips to the training ground at the impressive Al Jazira club have now become a more regimented exercise with police escorts and strict protocols.
The players had their first look of the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium under lights when they rolled up for yesterday’s only training session last night. They could not have been more impressed. The massive light towers comfortably turned night into day with lighting up to the standard needed to play cricket.
Members of City’s management team including Steve Vuksich and Colin Cook were given a tour of the stadium where the FIFA Club World Cup will kick-off. They were able to snatch a few video clips -- including some shots of the super-impressive dressing rooms -- before being asked, diplomatically, to move on as the opening ceremony dress rehearsal was under way.
The dressing rooms boast a television screen on which a video of the first half -- allowing for a quick analysis -- will be made available to both teams when they troop in at halftime.
The players trained on their usual immaculate pitch not 100m to one side of the match stadium.
The players continue to lift the tempo on the training pitch with a noticeable step up from what they showed earlier in the campaign.
Goalkeepers Paul Gothard and Jacob Spoonley again spent the first part of the session at one end of the ground with goalkeeping coach Simon Eaddy again showing his hidden skills as a striker in snapping a volley of shots at his keepers. There remains a friendly rivalry between the two custodians but with both quick to praise each other for their good work.
Gothard could have been left red-faced and empty-handed if he had not chased the laundry man down the hall yesterday morning when he realised his match gloves had been scooped up in a towel and were headed for the big washing machine in which the player’s training kit is tipped each day.
It was a red letter day for Spoonley as he learned he had scored an A+ and A in passing the first two papers of the law degree he is working his way through at Auckland University. He is also a few years into his BA studies.
With much free time before the day’s only training session, a number of players and management team took time out to take in the sights.
The Marina Mall, while smaller than the massive shopping complexes in Dubai was nevertheless impressive.
The quote of the day came from City chairman Ivan Vuksich.
Cook went into the mall’s classy lingerie shop apparently keener to simply talk to the shop assistant than sample her wares but as he struck up a friendly conversation, Vuksich wandered in and warned the young lady “beware of him, he is a cross-dresser from Arbroath“ sparking a wave of guffaws from Cook’s so-called mates.
That visit, which included time spent at a FIFA stand promoting the Club World Cup and another round of television interviews for coach Paul Posa and players Sam Campbell and Adam McGeorge, was followed by a visit to the amazing six-star Emirates Palace hotel.
The magnificent hotel brought a new meaning to opulence.
From the marble floors to the unbelievable ceilings and everything in between it was obvious no expense had been spared in building this amazing complex at which tournament favourite Barcelona will stay when they roll up in a few days time. A step or three up from the Beach Rotana Hotel where the City players are based.

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