Soccer: Credibility required to ensure survival

By Michael Brown

Sepp Blatter is a powerful man - probably more powerful than most prime ministers and presidents.

So when the Fifa president said last December Oceania had two years to improve at the Club World Cup or face the axe, it was a statement worth taking seriously.

"If you want to have a Fifa Club World Cup, we need to have professional clubs playing," Blatter said last year. "Definitely, since Australia left Oceania [to align with Asia], we have a problem at least at the level of club competition."

Waitakere United will once again attempt to gain credibility for Oceania when they take on Adelaide United in a Club World Cup qualifier against Adelaide in Tokyo on December 11.

Last year, they succumbed meekly to Sepahan 3-1, conceding two goals in the opening four minutes. This year, defender Neil Emblen is clear about what his side need to achieve to gain Blatter's approval.

"We have to get a result," he says. "If we get beaten in the 90th minute or injury time, yeah, there will be credibility, but we will have still lost and that's what people will remember. We have to win the game or, at the very least, get close to winning.

If we are 1-0 up with five minutes to go and lose in extra-time, that might be OK. I think we need to get a lead in the game, then we will get credibility.

"It would be tragic [if Oceania lost entry to the Club World Cup]. They couldn't officially call it a world tournament if Oceania wasn't there."

Waitakere have made great efforts to help achieve this. Last year, they played Manawatu in an NZFC game in front of 200 people at Fred Taylor Park on the Saturday before taking on Sepahan on the Thursday.

This time, they will leave on Wednesday, eight days before the tournament, and take on Chinese club side Ningbo in front of an expected audience of 40,000. This comes on top of two tough games against Auckland City, an O-League fixture and a 7-0 defeat to the Wellington Phoenix.

"Last year, we suffered a bit of stage fright," Emblen says. "Maybe people were overawed by the whole situation. We know what to expect this time and we have some unfinished business."

Waitakere have been bullish about their chances of beating Adelaide and progressing to the main draw, where they would meet Asian champions Gamba Osaka. The winner of that match plays European champions Manchester United in the semifinals.

Part of this optimism is the fact they know what to expect from Adelaide, considering they can watch them every week in the A-League and they play a familiar style of football, whereas Waitakere went into the match against Sepahan blind.

But they knew what to expect from the Wellington Phoenix a fortnight ago and were soundly beaten.

Oceania general secretary Tai Nicholas was confident Blatter would look favourably on Oceania's continued involvement at the Club World Cup, especially with New Zealand performing competitively at other Fifa tournaments.

"If New Zealand had been getting beaten heavily and Waitakere got thrashed as well, then Blatter would look at all tournaments," he said. "But the fact everyone is performing OK and if Waitakere do all right, then Blatter might say it's fine. If Waitakere get a thrashing, there will be an issue."

Oceania have indicated they will contribute as much as $100,000 to next year's O-League champions to help them prepare for the 2009 Club World Cup.

- Herald on Sunday

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