x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Ready for the cup curtain-raiser

Auckland City admits being underdogs ahead of tonight's match with Al Ahli, but insist the New Zealanders are ready to pull off a surprise win.

Paul Posa will pit his wits against Al Ahli.
Paul Posa will pit his wits against Al Ahli.

ABU DHABI // Paul Posa, the Auckland City coach, admits his side are underdogs ahead of tonight's Club World Cup opening match with Dubai-based Al Ahli, but insists the New Zealanders are ready to pull off a surprise win. The two teams take to the pitch at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium this evening, with the winner setting up a quarter-final tie with Mexican side Atlante FC on Saturday. Posa, whose side arrived in the UAE last week, says he has studied his opponents in depth as he bids to gain the upper hand.

"All Ahli's games are broadcast on TV here [and] there are a lot of expat New Zealanders in the UAE who have sent us videos of all the matches," said the Auckland coach. "My assistant, Ramon Tribulietx, has done a lot of analysis - he knows all about every single player and each of their strengths and weaknesses. So we have done everything we could to gather the information that can help us win this match."

Auckland qualified for this year's event after winning the Oceania Champions League, yet Posa believes his side will need to raise their game if they are to compete with the Pro League champions. "Of course, it is a step up," said Posa. "But we, as a team, aspire to play at a higher level. That is the incentive of the Club World Cup: to raise the bar in terms of the quality of our league. We know we are the underdogs, there is no question about that, but if we didn't think we could get a result we would not have come here."

Ivan Vicelich, the Auckland captain, is equally as bullish about his side's chances this evening. "We came here saying we weren't here just to make up the numbers, but we are also realistic and know we come here as the underdogs," said Vicelich, who has 65 caps for the New Zealand national team. "Saying that, there is no reason why we can't cause an upset. We are here to get a result and if that means beating Al Ahli in our first game then that's what we'll be looking to do."

The Ahli coach Mahdi Ali, however, has no intention of crashing out of his home tournament at the first hurdle and believes a recent upturn in league form has provided his side with a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the game. Ahli were rooted to the foot of the table when Ali replaced Ioan Andone last month, but since then they have gone four games unbeaten - including a 3-0 rout of Ajman last Friday, climbing to seventh in the Pro League.

"The Club World Cup is the biggest club competition in the world," said Ali. "So far we've been concentrating purely on the league given the position we were in, but, fortunately, that has improved recently and now we have been able to turn our attention to this competition. "We've been watching Auckland and they are a very good team. We see them as a complete team, organised with strong, physical and experienced players.

"They are well disciplined and there isn't one danger man as all of the players are of a very high standard; both in attack and defence. We know the match won't be easy for us, but we're ready and we hope to do the country proud." @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae Al Ahli v Auckland City, KO 8pm, Aljazeera 2