Navy Blues out to break OFC duck

Words: Terry Maddaford

Thursday 1 October 2009

Picture: Phototek NZ

The time for talking and training is over. It is now show time and the chance to cash in on the one important advantage Paul Posa’s Auckland City have over their opponents.
While it has been rare for teams to appear in more than one or occasionally two FIFA Club World Cups, City are back for their second such outing and, more importantly, have a host of players who have been on this stage before.
Al Ahli, from nearby Dubai, and City’s opponents in the tournament opener are rookies who must carry the weight of expectation in front of a vociferous home crowd.
Posa on the other hand has eight players who already have had game time in the CWC. In the end, that experience could prove the difference.
Jason Hayne and Daniel Koprivcic are back for their third attempt although neither has played a full game in the past.
Hayne played 34 minutes in City’s 0-2 loss to Al Ahly SC in 2006 and 27 minutes for Waitakere United against Sepahan a year later.
Koprivcic was a stoppage time substitute for Waitakere in Japan two years ago and played the opening 67 minutes, also for United, in last year’s 1-2 loss to Adelaide United.
Seven of the City players who went down to Al Ahly three years ago are back. Along with Hayne, Keryn Jordan (who Hayne replaced after 56 minutes), Riki van Steeden (substituted after 52 minutes), James Pritchett, Grant Young, Greg Uhlmann and Chad Coombes all played that night with the latter quartet playing the full 90 minutes.
As an aside, City goalkeeping coach Simon Eaddy played for Waitakere in their 2007 game against Sepahan.
Pritchett threw a scare into the camp late in last night’s training session at the match venue.
After an overlapping run he pulled up quickly clutching his hamstring. Frustrated, he went off alone but later felt a little happier and has not ruled out his chances of playing.
Posa said his star right back was “about a 20 per cent chance of playing” but he will be given until the very last minute to prove his fitness.
With the doubt surrounding Pritchett, Posa has delayed the naming of his starting X1.
“It is a real blow both for James and the team,” said Posa. “We have had such a settled back four, something like this is a real disappointment. But, if he is not fit to play someone else will get their chance and we will make the necessary adjustments.”
On a brighter note, some of the players who have been struggling with injuries appeared close to their best with Alex Feneridis, Grant Young and Keryn Jordan all fired up and ready for any game time Posa might give them.
Apart from the hour-long session in the revamped stadium which promises to bring an electric atmosphere to the match, it was a relatively quiet day for the players who were confined to the hotel. It will be more of the same today with the team marking time in the build-up to the 8pm kick-off for what will be the biggest game in most player’s careers.
The big incentive for the City players is the chance to become the first Oceania team to win a CWC game.
Apart from two appearances each for Waitakere and Auckland City, the only other OFC team to take part was Sydney FC in 2005. They went down 1-0 first-up to Deportivo Saprissa.
OFC general secretary Tai Nicholas, who was at the stadium last night, will be hoping for another good result for the Confederation while New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum also arrived yesterday on his way home after attending the World Cup draw in South Africa with similar high hopes.

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