Auckland City are confident they can reach the summit of Oceania football again, despite the travails of the longest season in their history.
The Auckland club, who host AS Tefana in the second leg of their OFC Champions League semifinal today, have had a remarkable campaign.
They have already played 35 matches - the most in the history of the franchise - and could reach 38 games, if they progress to a seventh consecutive OFC Champions League final. In the process, they have redefined what is possible from a semi-professional outfit based in this country.
At the Fifa Club World Cup they threatened an upset against the J-League champions, leading Kashima Antlers 1-0 until the 67th minute. They lost 2-1, with Kashima scoring the winner in the 88th minute, but became the first Oceania team (including Australian sides) to score a goal against the Japanese champions since the competition relaunched in 2005.
Then, at Nike Lunar Cup in Hong Kong, they beat the Korean champions FC Seoul, before topping local team Kitchee FC, who had five marquee guest players from the Hong Kong Premier League.
Those sorts of performances, against clubs with budgets in the tens of millions, defy football logic. For some perspective, look at some subsequent results. Kashima reached the final of the Club World Cup, taking Real Madrid to extra time before losing 4-2. They also demolished Brisbane Roar 3-0 in March, before dropping the return leg in Brisbane 2-1.
And last month FC Seoul beat Western Sydney Wanderers 3-2, in Sydney.
After their Asian adventures, Auckland City faced a compressed schedule of catch-up games, but still won the Stirling Sports Minor Premiership.
They lost the domestic final, again, to Team Wellington, but showed signs of bouncing back with a solid 2-0 win over Tefana in Tahiti last week.
"We always want to be on top, the final was a setback but we are back on track now," said midfielder Albert Riera.
"Winning games gives you the motivation to keep going. Everyone is very positive and these are the games that everyone wants to play in."
Riera has been outstanding this season, after his return to Kiwitea Street following three years at the Wellington Phoenix. He's one of the best midfielders in the country and a key man in the engine room.
"Tefana are very strong and we can't take anything for granted," said Riera. "We have to match the same intensity we had away from home."
Assistant coach Ivan Vicelich, a veteran of six successful Oceania campaigns, feels the team is peaking at the right time.
"It's been a demanding campaign," said Vicelich. "It's almost like a normal European season with that many games. But the trips away were highlights and its part of the process of wanting to lift and switch on for big games. We have managed their loads carefully but I don't think the boys need motivation for these kinds of games."
Today's other semifinal is in the capital, with Team Wellington aiming to reach their third successive OFC Champions League final. After they drew 2-2 away with Vanuatu's AS Magenta last week, they will be favourites to progress at home.