Soccer: International flavour to title quest

By Michael Brown

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Soccer is often touted as the world game and it's very much the case at Auckland City, with as many as 17 of their first-team squad born outside New Zealand.

Auckland City will chase a fifth ASB Premiership title tomorrow when they host Team Wellington in the final at Kiwitea St. They have a heavy international flavour, with players from Argentina, Spain, South Korea, Croatia, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Japan, England, Scotland and Wales.

A handful have spent some time in New Zealand, including former All Whites James Pritchett, Andrew Milne, Sam Burfoot and Ryan De Vries, but a number are more recent arrivals and tomorrow's starting side is likely to include only two New Zealand-born players (captain Ivan Vicelich and goalkeeper Tamati Williams).

ASB Premiership rules allow for a big foreign influence. As many as four players can play as foreigners but they are regarded as locals after one season.

Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx, who is Spanish, is approached on a daily basis from players and agents but some like Albert Riera and Emiliano Tade have landed in their lap after arriving in New Zealand as backpackers.

"The Club World Cup is a factor but we would still have interest because we are well known around the world," he said. "Times are tough in Europe and a lot of players want to have experiences playing overseas.

"It's happened more by chance than anything. The origins of the club are Croatian and there were already a lot of international players when I arrived. This country already has a lot of British influence so a host of nationalities are going to be involved at our club. The way I wanted to play, we needed some Spanish influence on the field to try to make that style contagious."

Auckland aren't the only club with an international influence, and Southern United were coached this season by a Brazilian and had two Brazilian imports.

City go in as hot favourites against Team Wellington.

They easily won the minor premiership, dropping only one game, and were convincing 8-1 aggregate winners over Waitakere United in their two-legged semifinal. On top of that, they also beat Wellington in both previous meetings this season (4-1 and 3-2).

Auckland have already guaranteed themselves a spot in the next OFC Champions League but are desperate to win the title given it's been four years since their last one.

"Auckland City have always been a winning club but we haven't won this final for a few years now," said Tribulietx, who said he was likely to apply for the vacant All Whites coaching role.

"We have to do it this time so there is a bit of pressure from the club."

Wellington beat Hawkes Bay in the other semifinal but recently lost Shaun Timmins to the Wellington Phoenix and will also be without Cole Peverley, who is suspended.

- APNZ

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