City stun Al Ahli in World Cup opener

Words: Terry Maddaford

Saturday 5 December 2009

Picture: Phototek NZ

Reshuffled Auckland City left most of the 14,000 or so fans at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium like stunned mullets as they upset local hopes Al Ahli 2-0 in the opening match of the sixth Fifa Club World Cup here last night.
By the time Brazilian referee Carlos Simon blew for fulltime many of the seats in the vast stadium were empty leaving the joyous City players to celebrate and reflect on a job well done.
It was not the greatest game of football but was due reward for a bunch of amateurs pitted against a professional outfit carrying the hopes of a host nation. Meticulous preparation also springs readily to mind.
Almost everywhere but on the scoreboard the hosts were ahead. The one vital statistic Paul Posa’s team led was shots on target. They had five of 15 in the right whereas the UAE champions had just four of 22 to test Jacob Spoonley in the City goal.
At training two days out from the opening match, it was easy to sense the added urgency in the Auckland City players.
They went into the game wanting it more than their opponents. In the end that grit and determination was justly rewarded.
The opening goal was a heart-breaker for Al Ahli coming as it did within seconds of stoppage time at the end of the first half.
Jason Hayne, a late call-up when James Pritchett was cruelly forced to cry off after a pre-match fitness test on his strained hamstring ruled him out, took the wide right attacking role with Chad Coombes dropping back to fill Pritchett’s customary place at right fullback.
With the clock counting down, Hayne chased deep and fired over a cross which was met inside the far post by Adam Dickenson from where he fired the ball -- off his knee, shin or foot (who cares) -- into the Al Ahli goal.
It was a body blow for local hopes but a tremendous fillip for the City players and coaching staff.
Coombes’ stunner -- a 25 metre left-foot strike and early contender for goal of the tournament -- 21 minutes into the second half slammed the door on the locals.
Within a couple of minutes, Posa went to his bench surprising some in injecting Keryn Jordan when many felt an added defender might have been a better option.
“No, it was simply a case of Danko [Daniel Koprivcic] turning to the bench and saying ‘I’m out of here.’ I had no problem with that. He had run himself to a standstill and we felt Keryn could get out there, hold the ball up and maybe win us a few free kicks.”
This was a victory to savour not only for the rabid City fans -- both in the stadium (a few) and at home (plenty) -- but New Zealand football in general.
It is somewhat ironic that Posa and All Whites coach Ricki Herbert, at one time the coaching duo at Central United, can now can share in deserved glory as coaches who have taken New Zealand teams to the next level.
This was a game, and result, for the ages.
Eleven players and a couple of substitutes who gave their all for the cause.
That an additional US$500,000 (for a minimum US$1million in total) is headed down under is largely irrelevant. The bigger picture is that New Zealand teams are continuing to punch above their weight and further push the Oceania cause.
There were no individual stars in this victory, simply a team, well led by Ivan Vicelich, determined to defy the odds and show they were worthy of a place alongside teams like Barcelona as their Confederation champion.
Posa, Vicelich and the rest of the extended squad have little time to reflect as they now prepare for what will be a far tougher test against Mexican/Concacaf champions Atlante FCF at the same stadium on Sunday morning (NZ time).
But, expect more of the same from a City team determined to give their all in how many games -- at least two -- they have still to play here.

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