x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hogg the limelight

The 19-year-old Auckland City left-back Ian Hogg keeps Al Ahli at bay in a mature performance for the New Zealanders.

Auckland teenager Ian Hogg, left, looked comfortable against professional opposition.
Auckland teenager Ian Hogg, left, looked comfortable against professional opposition.

The Auckland City defender captain Ivan Vicelich was adamant all week that, despite his side's amateur status, the New Zealand league leaders had the necessary experience to emulate their national team and break Gulf hearts last night. And while 19-year-old left-back Ian Hogg hardly qualifies as a stalwart for the southern hemisphere side, he showed no signs of being overawed by the big occasion.

For most of Paul Posa's Auckland side, their 2-0 win over Al Ahli in the opening match of the Club World Cup was the highlight of their careers. Adam Dickinson, who opened the scoring at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, used to play for Tranmere Rovers reserves in England and cites his most memorable game as an FA Youth Cup match against Southampton. Chad Coombes, a schoolteacher by day when not dominating the midfield for the New Zealanders by night, says his best experience in football was a 2-0 defeat to Egyptian champions Al Ahly at the 2006 Club World Cup.

And Kiwi Jason Hayne, who put in a man-of-the-match performance to seal his side's place in the quarter-finals here in Abu Dhabi, joined from a side called Surfers Paradise Apollo. Yet amid all the excitement, teenager Hogg remained composed, calm and covered the left flank expertly. The former Waitakere United defender is aware the world is watching and will be keen to excel in the Emirates, especially now his country has qualified for the World Cup next summer. And last night, he did just that.

When Ahli's Brazilian striker Bare broke through on goal midway through the first half, it was Hogg who made a last ditch sliding challenge to dispossess him. While Posa had raised concerns beforehand regarding the Red Knights' in-form forward, Hogg is likely to have remained unfazed. After all, he has faced more intimidating Brazilians in his short career. In 2008, the college student took time off from his studies and travelled to Beijing to represent his country at the Olympic Games. The All Whites, having fallen 1-0 to hosts China in their opening game, faced Brazil in their second match.

Hogg was given the task of keeping the two-time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho quiet. New Zealand lost 5-0 and the AC Milan playmaker netted twice: a free-kick and a penalty. Hogg, however, has clearly learnt a lesson since last summer's rout . His performance against Ahli was flawless. And while a team who contain Alexandre Pato, Manchester United's Anderson and Al Jazira's Rafael Sobis is clearly more challenging than an Ahli side plagued by injury, he can only keep quiet what is put in front of him and he did it with ease.

But it was his attacking threat that impressed the most. In the first half, having burst down the left side, he skipped inside two Ahli defenders and laid off for Dickinson, who shot straight at Yousef Abdullah. Again, in the second period, he doubled up with Auckland's left winger Adam McGeorge to leave Khaled Mohammed helpless and drive a pin-point cross in for Daniel Koprivcic, this time the Croatian striker blazed over.

Posa spoke eloquently earlier this week about the future of football in New Zealand, particularly their impressive Under 20 side. Hogg, a week before his 20th birthday, has already collected three caps for the senior team and, on this showing, looks ready for South Africa next summer. Ronaldinho might not have it as easy next time. gmeenaghan@thenational.ae