Auckland City’s merry band face herculean task against heavyweights San Lorenzo

Can Auckland City FC beat the best team in South America?

Eight days ago, that question would have been met with a giggle and a raised eyebrow, but today, as Auckland's merry mix of amateur and semi-professional footballers prepares to take on San Lorenzo in the semifinal of the Club World Cup, it doesn't seem quite so improbable.

Auckland have carefully conquered the best team in Morocco and Africa over the past week - without conceding a goal - and have built a reputation for being tactically excellent, with an impenetrable defence.

Marshalled in the midfield by 38-year-old Ivan Vicelich, and backed by a stubborn international back four, Auckland were the best team in their first two games at the tournament and rarely looked like conceding a goal.

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But to graduate from beating the best of the rest to toppling the second-highest-ranked team in the tournament will require a herculean effort. San Lorenzo are genuine footballing heavyweights.

The South American champions arrived in Morocco last week, after earning direct qualification to the semifinal, but in spirit have been there for months.

Ever since they won the Copa Libertadores in August - South America's equivalent of the Champions League - San Lorenzo have had eyes only for the Club World Cup.

They drifted through their domestic league, closing their campaign with two morale-boosting wins to finish eighth, but it was all buildup to now. The Club World Cup is the highlight of their calendar.

They are one step away from a dream final with European champions Real Madrid and will carry a sizeable contingent of fans with them - about 5000, including Hollywood actor Viggo Mortensen.

They don't have Real Madrid's millions but they do have some of Argentina's best local talent. Average first division salaries and club income in Argentina are less than 10 per cent of those in the Premier League or the big two in Spain.

San Lorenzo goalkeeper Sebastian Torrico let it slip yesterday that coach Edgardo Bauza had been preparing for a match against African champions ES Setif, who lost to Auckland in the quarter-final. Torrico said it was now a matter of making adjustments.

"They are an opponent that must be respected," Torrico said. "We know that we have to do our job properly in order to get to the final.

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"In this type of competition anything can happen, it is a knockout tournament, if a team lines up well for 90 minutes they can spring a surprise. We knew that the three possible opponents would be tough, the most important thing is how we are."

Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx said the team's morale played a big role in their win over Setif and would be an important factor again today.

"Psychology plays a role when you are winning and it can give you the ability to move mountains," he said. "Overall I'm happy with the performance of these players in their fitness, team structure and their belief.

"They've shown they believe in the way the team play and we have proved we can be competitive no matter who we play against."

A win would see the Oceania champions double their current prizemoney haul of $2.57 million, while a loss would result in a third and fourth playoff match against Cruz Azul on Sunday morning.

Who are San Lorenzo?

• San Lorenzo qualified for the Club World Cup after winning the Copa Libertadores - South America's equivalent of the Champions League. They were seeded 15th in the knockout-style tournament and beat 16th seed Nacional in the final.

• San Lorenzo are one of the Los 5 Grandes, or top five teams, in Argentine football and have won the top Primera Division 15 times.

• Their home ground, Estadio Pedro Bidegain, holds 43,494 - that's about 40,000 more than Auckland City's Kiwitea St home.

• Pope Francis, who is from the Flores region of Buenos Aires, is a big fan of San Lorenzo - his local team.

• Some major international names have donned the club's blue and red kit, including Argentine Pablo Zabaleta, who plays for Premier League champions Manchester City, while defender Mario Yepes, who played 102 times for Colombia, is in the squad.