Words: ACFC Media
Monday 7 January 2019
Picture: Hong Kong FA
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC will compete at the Lunar New Year Cup for the second time in two years.
The nine-times OFC Champions League winners are one of four clubs playing in the tournament alongside Shandong Luneng Taishan FC (China), Sagan Tosu FC (Japan) and a Hong Kong League XI.
The glamour is brought by J League outfit Sagan Tosu FC and their World Cup-winning striker, Fernando Torres. The 34-year-old former Chelsea, Liverpool, AC Milan and Atletico Madrid striker played 110 times for his country and scored 38 goals, and is the club's marquee signing.
Torres is supported by Colombian international Víctor Ibarbo and former Croatian age-group international Nino Galovic. Sagan Tosu FC are relative newcomers to the J League having won promotion to the top flight in 2012 with their best finish of fifth achieved twice.
Shandong Luneng Taishan compete in the money-laden Chinese Super League and have won four league titles and five Chinese FA Cups. Currently third in their domestic league, Taishan are coached by former Chinese international, Li Xiaopeng
CHAMPIONS | Your 2017 Nike Lunar New Year Cup Champions Auckland City! pic.twitter.com/YkWG4e863C— Auckland City FC (@AucklandCity_FC) January 31, 2017
A Hong Kong League XI completes the line-up and will feature a raft of guest players though the bulk of the squad is likely to be made up from local side Hong Kong Pegasus FC.
The four teams will play in a single knockout match on 5 February with the winner of each match progressing to the final on 7 February while the losers of each match will play a third place playoff.
Two years ago, Auckland City FC caused a major upset after Emiliano Tade's winner knocked out Korean League heavyweights FC Seoul in the semi-finals before All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis netted the winner for the Navy Blues in a tense final with Kitchee SC.
The two 1-0 victories over full time professional clubs continued Auckland City FC's impeccable record in international competition.
Auckland City FC chairman Ivan Vuksich was delighted to see the Navy Blues return to international action after missing out on the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time since 2010.
"There is no shortage of excitement to be involved with the Lunar Cup again particularly after our debut experience in 2017. Missing out on the FIFA Club World Cup was a blow for everyone at our club but it's clear our reputation and brand remains a strong attraction for organisers," he said.
The familiarity of potentially facing Japanese opposition was not lost on Vuksich, either, with the Navy Blues playing in five FIFA Club World Cup tournaments hosted by Japan in 2006, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016.
"We've played J league opposition many times in the past, not only in the FIFA Club World Cup, but also in preparatory matches and we've performed very well in the past. That sort of challenges demands the best from you both on and off the pitch and it is an exciting prospect," he said.
Auckland City FC's involvement means the ISPS Handa Premiership clash with Canterbury United scheduled for February 3 is postponed until a later date and Vuksich expressed gratitude for the decision.
"Canterbury United and New Zealand Football were very understanding in agreeing to postpone the match in Christchurch and I extend thanks on behalf of everyone at Auckland City FC for their co-operation in making this possible," Vuksich said.
The Lunar New Year Cup is viewed by Vuksich as ideal preparation for a tough OFC Champions League group stage that sees the Navy Blues travel to Honiara a few weeks later to take on Solomon Warriors, AS Magenta and as yet unknown opponents from the qualifying section involving clubs from American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga.
"The OFC Champions League forms one part of a vital pathway for clubs to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup and with a level of uncertainty about the future of the competition it is important that we maximise the opportunity to give our players, staff and club every chance to experience international level competition when it arises. The Lunar New Year Cup provides us with that opportunity," he said.
In other developments, Auckland City FC signed two new players in the January transfer window with 24-year-old Swedish striker Patrick Lundemo and midfielder Omar Guardiola added to Ramon Tribulietx's squad. Guardiola, also 24, played for Southern United most recently having turned out previously for Nelson Suburbs.
The Lunar New Year Cup kicks off on February 5 and ends two days later with a final and third place playoff.
Lunar New Year Cup 2019
When: February 5-7, 2019
Where: Hong Kong International Stadium
Who: Auckland City FC (New Zealand), Shandong Luneng Taishan FC (China), Sagan Tosu FC (Japan) and Hong Kong League XI.