Ivan Vicelich is in the midst of the biggest month of his football career with the ageless defender aiming to succeed on dual fronts, despite some unfavourable odds. The veteran Vicelich remains an important contributor for both club and country, showing few signs of slowing down despite, at 37, being at the age where most players have hung up the boots.
Vicelich completed the 90 minutes for New Zealand in their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ play-off against Mexico this week, battling both Mexico’s City altitude and his younger opponents. New Zealand have a mountain to climb if they are to turn-around the 5-1 first-leg defeat, but regardless of the outcome next Wednesday in Wellington, Vicelich will have another goal on which to focus.
The tall Auckland-born defender of Croatian-heritage will lead Auckland City into next month’s FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013. The Navy Blues will be appearing for the fifth time – a feat matched only by Egyptian powerhouse Al Ahly – with Vicelich set to feature for a fourth occasion.
Flying the Oceania flag
Next week’s second leg could realistically mark the twilight of Vicelich’s international career, although nothing would surprise for this indefatigable figure of New Zealand football. Vicelich, though, will have little time to dwell on such matters with Auckland City due to fly out to a preparatory camp in Barcelona, home city of coach Ramon Tribulietx, ahead of Morocco 2013.
Despite their modest status, Auckland City have been highly competitive at previous editions of the tournament and Vicelich is hopeful of reprising past success. "It’s going to very difficult coming from an amateur level to a professional one but we've met expectations in the past and we flew the Oceania flag really well in 2009 by winning two games with Al Ahly and TP Mazembe," Vicelich told FIFA.com.
Auckland City's last two visits resulted in 2-0 and 1-0 losses against Kashiwa Reysol and Sanfrecce Hiroshima respectively. "I watched one of the games from the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan on DVD last week and saw how well we played and how many chances we created. It’s great to be involved in a club that can fly the flag so well and do New Zealand proud but it’s a big challenge."
The high water mark for Auckland City and Oceania was the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009 when the Navy Blues notched two wins to grab fifth place. The importance of getting winning results isn't lost on the inspirational Vicelich. "We have had respectable results in the past and it’s important that we try to do our best again for not only ourselves but everyone in Oceania."
"It’s very important for our confederation that we aim high and do well at international level. If we can fly the flag high for Oceania and Auckland City and get a result again, that would be outstanding."
Last shot at glory
Win or lose next week in Wellington, Vicelich will add another notable inclusion at Morocco 2013 on a resume that already includes three FIFA Confederation Cups, and five FIFA World Cup campaigns, capped by New Zealand’s breakthrough showing at South Africa 2010. Notably too, he is New Zealand’s most capped player in a national team career that remarkably is now in its 19th year.
No longer blessed with the kind of pace offered by younger opponents, Vicelich nevertheless remains an unflappable presence in the backline where his experience and guile are significant assets. His on-field presence and leadership remains important for the national team, more so than ever following last year’s retirement of All Whites icon Ryan Nelsen.
Similarly Vicelich’s importance heightened for the intercontinental play-off given the injury to West Ham United defender and All Whites captain Winston Reid. “Losing Winston is a huge blow for the team,” said Vicelich speaking ahead of this week’s first leg. Winston is a great guy and brings a lot to the team, on and off the pitch.
"We have to focus on ourselves and the tactic we'll take into the game. We can't hope they're going to be off their game or rely on just luck. We need to stand up and fight for each other. It would be dangerous to focus too much on what's happening with them.”