Auckland City FC 1
ES Setif 0
Auckland City's incredible football fairy tale has added another chapter.
The amateur side continued on their improbable trail of destruction at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco this morning, by beating Algerian champions ES Setif 1-0 to make the semi-final.
The world tournament pits the champions of each FIFA confederation against each other, to find the best club team in the world, and Auckland - the champions of Oceania and the only non-professionals - were widely expected just to make up the numbers.
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But after advancing to the quarterfinals via a thrilling penalty shootout against Tetoutan on Thursday - which resulted in the Moroccan side's coach getting sacked - they are now into the semi-final, after former Everton centre back John Irving scored the game's only goal early in the second half.
The win sets up a semi-final with heavyweight Argentinian champions San Lorenzo, and Auckland are now just one game away from a potential final against European champions Real Madrid.
Auckland have also doubled their prize money, and are now guaranteed to take home $2.57million, which could rise to $4 million if they can make the final.
Auckland played like a team full of experience. They knew when to slow the game down, they knew how to draw fouls and ultimately, they knew how to win.
For the second straight game, Auckland were defensively impenetrable. New Serbian signing Marko Dordevic has formed a strong central pairing with former Everton defender John Irving, while Angel Berlanga and Takuya Iwata have both looked A-League quality in their roles as left and right backs.
They are shielded well by the intelligent movement of Ivan Vicelich, who despite being 38 has progressed from the backline to a defensive midfield role.
Up front, Ryan De Vries and Emiliano Tade both worked hard to carve out a few good opportunities. The game had few clear goal scoring chances, but Auckland had the best of them. De Vries blazed wide in the first half from outside the box and Angel Berlanga clipped the cross bar with a clever chip early in the second half.
But the clinical touch came from Irving, who has hardly put a foot wrong in 210 minutes of Club World Cup action for Auckland.
The strong defender powered home a low drive from the edge of the box in the 52nd minute, after El Setif had failed to clear a corner.
The goal sparked wild celebrations from the Auckland bench, who couldn't contain their excitement.
Auckland will now have four days to find their feet, and apply for more leave from their day-jobs, before they tackle the South American champions on Thursday morning.
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx was delighted with the win, describing the moment as the highlight of his career.
"Our players were unbelievable," he said. "I'm very proud of [them].
"We haven't conceded a goal in two games. This is a great tribute to the work the club [has put in]. Coming up here and reaching the semi-finals of a tournament like this is unbelievable."