Auckland City 2
Al Ahli 0
ABU DHABI - New Zealand's soccer stocks continue to prosper.
Auckland City's gritty win over hometown hopes Al Ahli FCD in the Fifa Club World tournament opener yesterday continued the rise and rise for New Zealand soccer.
This was a victory for the little guys in the world of professional soccer.
An amateur team based in Sandringham ran on to the impressive Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium with high hopes but little to suggest they would become party-poopers.
In the end it was a piece of absolute class - the stunning 67th minute left-footed strike from 25 metres by Chad Coombes - that ensured City would become the first Oceania team to progress to the business end of this competition.
The extra US$500,000 ($691,000) they are now assured of was of little consequence.
That they followed the under-17 national side's feat at their World Cup in Nigeria a few weeks ago in progressing to the second phase at a Fifa contest was far more important.
Toss in the epic win by the All Whites over Bahrain to win through to soccer's big show, and it has been an unprecedented dream run for a sport which continues to live in Big Brother's shadow.
"Since we have been here, more and more of the animal has come out in the boys," said City captain Ivan Vicelich who, again wearing all white, has been part of two huge triumphs.
"We took that attitude into the game. We created chances which was encouraging for a team who had been written off as a bunch of amateurs.
"I felt we had the better chances early and as the belief grew I reminded the guys they were not playing the best in the world.
"Scoring just before halftime was special. There are certain times when you want to score. This was one of them. And when the ball later fell for Chad I yelled out 'shoot, shoot, shoot!'.
"I don't think he heard me but he did anyway."
Questions were later asked as to why Coombes found himself in the right position at exactly the right time.
After all, he had been shuffled deeper to fill the right back role which James Pritchett had reluctantly vacated when he failed a fitness test on his strained hamstring just minutes before kick-off.
In that reshuffle, Coombes dropped back from his expected wide right side attacking role allowing Jason Hayne to start and, somewhat ironically, provide the pinpoint cross, after a deep run on the right, which found Adam Dickinson at the far post from where he hit a half-volley into the goal.
That goal, with 44m 55s showing on the clock, was the fillip the City players wanted.
"Scoring a minute before halftime could not have been better," said City coach Paul Posa. "I was preparing to go into halftime at 0-0 and plan accordingly. It was then a case of calming them down and assuring them they deserved to be ahead.
"It was then important to get through the first 10 minutes of the second half at which point I thought Al Ahli might lose the plot."
The post-match statistics backed the home team's domination everywhere but on the scoreboard.
They had 22 scoring attempts but only four on target whereas Auckland City had 15 with five on target.
Al Ahli forced 10 corners to one and enjoyed 58 per cent of possession and also had the better of the foul count as Brazilian referee Carlos Simon, somewhat harshly, ruled against City in giving 15 free kicks for fouls to Al Ahli but only nine for City.
Al Ahli coach Mahdi Redha was philosophical. "Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Victory goes to the team who is more calm and confident.
"Our team did not do well. We made many mistakes. Auckland City, as we know, is a modest team but they won."
City now prepare for their quarter-final against Concacaf champions Atlante FC from Mexico - a team Posa rates as the second best here, behind Barcelona - on Saturday night (5am Sunday NZ time).