Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Kiwi amateur a Club World Cup record-breaker

An amateur footballer from New Zealand has outdone the world's professionals and sent Fifa scurrying for the record books in the process. Auckland City striker Daniel Koprivcic will play in his fourth Club World Cup next month in Japan, believed to be a first for any player in the world.

A few players have competed in three but Fifa statisticians in Switzerland confirmed this week that no one has managed a quartet.

The fact that Koprivcic spends his weeks working in office administration for an Onehunga hydraulic engineering firm and trains only in the evening makes the feat even more meritorious.

"Its a great personal achievement for me, especially as an amateur player," says Koprivcic, who grew up in Croatia, living in the same city as his hero Davor Suker, before emigrating to New Zealand at the age of 14.

"There are professional players around Europe earning millions but have never been to one of these. Who knows, maybe there could be one more if we win the O-League again this year."

Of course the respective paths to the tournament differ. European clubs need to win the Champions League to qualify, while only the winner of the hugely competitive Copa Libertadores in South America can make the journey.

Even the top A-League club then must navigate their way though the Asian Champions League.

Winning the O-League is easier but the fact that NZFC clubs then compete on a shoestring budget against global giants balances this out.

Auckland City in 2006 was our first representative at the Club World Cup, followed by Waitakere (2007 and 2008) before Auckland City's breakthrough appearance in 2009, when they won two games.

Koprivcic was present for Waitakere's twin visits before switching clubs in 2009 - like any good striker, he seems to have the knack of being in the right place at the right time.

"I had been quite fortunate and lucky," admits Koprivcic. "In 2006, I had been approached by Auckland City but chose Waitakere and we were a strong team, with professionals like Neil Emblen, Darren Bazeley and Danny Hay, and we went on to have a lot of success."

In 2009, heavily influenced by the presence of Paul Posa as Auckland City coach, he decided to move across town.

"Players were moving on or retiring [at Waitakere] and I thought it was time for a change," says Koprivcic.

"I guess going for that third Club World Cup was the thing that decided it for me and I think it was the best decision."

Koprivcic remembers the 2007 event as being a "huge step up", as Waitakere were decisively beaten 3-1 by Iranian club Sepahan and he came on in the dying minutes.

The next year, they took the game to Adelaide United, opening the scoring before conceding twice to bow out.

"It seemed we were so close but still so far away. Certainly it didn't seem like such a big gap between us and the professionals."

In 2009, Auckland City beat United Arab Emirates champions Al-Ahli, were outclassed by North American champions Atlante but then recorded a stunning 3-2 win over African champions TP Mazembe to finish fifth.

That achievement was put in perspective the next year when the Africans went all the way to the final, before losing to Inter Milan.

"It is still hard to understand what we achieved over there," says Koprivcic. "Right from the first camp, there seemed to be a real belief among the players and coaching staff."

In the TP Mazembe match, the 30-year-old came the closest yet to breaking his scoring duck at the tournament, his attempted chip being illegally handled outside the area by the keeper, who was sent off.

"Obviously I wanted to score but probably that red card was better than a goal," says Koprivcic. "It was definitely a turning point."

This year, Auckland City face another uphill struggle with their qualifying match against the J-League champions (still to be determined) who will be a team brimming with Japanese and South Korean stars along with a sprinkling of South American talent.

- Herald on Sunday

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