If Auckland City are to succeed against huge odds at next month's Club World Cup it may be down to their strong Spanish connection.
The team leave tomorrow for Japan, where they will face the still-to-be-determined J-League champions in the qualifying round. City - the only non-professional team in the tournament - still retain a Kiwi heart but have added a Latin legion to their team for this campaign.
As well as coach Ramon Tribulietx, City have five Spanish players on their roster as well as an Argentinian and a Costa Rican.
"Our Kiwi players are still the most important but these guys have brought in something different," says Tribulietx. "They have a different flair and style. They are also good people and everyone gets on well."
Tribulietx can take some credit for the influx. A Barcelona native, he was technical director at various Spanish second division clubs before coming to the same role at Kiwitea street in 2008. He had played at Central briefly back in 1999 before a serious injury curtailed his progress. He remains well connected in Spain and at least two of the foreign legion arrived after persuasive Facebook chats with Tribulietx.
He is a football obsessive. He was a Barcelona season ticketholder from seven years old, until his father, in a fit of pique after some disappointing results, sold the family tickets 10 years later.
"They would cost a fortune to get back now," he laughs.
Some weeks he can watch more than 15 games on television, including Auckland City and their opposition's matches (at least twice) plus the A-League, J-League, Premier League and La Liga.
"He lives football 24/7," agrees captain Ivan Vicelich. "He tries to learn every aspect of the game and it comes across in his coaching; our sessions are always varied, which is great for the players."
Tribulietx has tried to refine City's style, previously characterised by fast breaks, counter-attacks and long balls, to play a more possession-based style.
"We know in Japan we will have a lot more time out of possession," says Tribulietx, "but we will try to stick to our style when we have the ball. To look after it, use our outlets and try to create something."
Of the Latin legion, some come with serious pedigree. Striker Manel Exposito came through the famed Barcelona youth system and made his first team debut on the same day as a certain Lionel Messi, in a match in October 2003 versus Jose Mourinho's Porto side. After a broken ankle halted his progress at the Nou Camp, he moved on to Athletico Madrid where he played alongside Fernando Torres. He has scored seven goals in five games this season and his goal last Sunday against Hekari was a thing of beauty; a precise shot from the edge of the area that curled in beside the post.
Andreu Guerao played alongside Exposito in Barcelona B and has since been at Sporting Gujon in La Liga and most recently Polish club Polonia Warsaw. Guerao had offers from Spanish and Polish clubs but the lure of the Club World Cup proved the deciding factor in opting for the NZFC.
The other members of the Spanish quintet are Angel Vina, who hails from Madrid and Albert Riera, another Barcelona native who once played against Andres Iniesta and is known as El Terrorista, due to a particularly awful passport photo.
Auckland City leave for Japan tomorrow, where the team with have a four-day training camp. Their first match in the Club World Cup is on December 8.