- Auckland City’s Dan Morgan returns after eight-year hiatus
- Looks back on 2009 Club World Cup debut, when aged just 19
- New Zealanders won two of three games during his last trip to United Arab Emirates
When Auckland City take on Al Jazira in Al Ain, the New Zealand club will be enjoying what has become a regular date with the FIFA Club World Cup – this being a record ninth appearance, but one of their ranks will only be rekindling his special relationship with the tournament.
Dan Morgan played a cameo role for Auckland City FC in Abu Dhabi back in 2009, their second-ever appearance at the global finals, when he was called upon to face TP Mazembe in the match for fifth place.
Then a fresh-faced 19-year-old on the fringes of the Navy Blues’ squad, he still recalls the moment he changed the game against the then champions of Africa. "It was a strange feeling to get the call-up but once you are on the pitch you're too focused on your job to be distracted,” he reminisced.
"Winning the first game was great, then beating the champions of Africa at such a young age was awesome and I hope we can repeat something similar this time. I remember getting high up the pitch then hearing a voice behind me screaming for the ball and it was our central defender Riki van Steeden.
"I wondered what Riki was doing so far away from where he should be, but I cut the ball back anyway and he hit it perfectly and it ended up in the back of the net. Riki hadn't started many games at the tournament and so it was a great moment for him and for all of us."
Auckland City FC at the Club World Cup
- Made their debut in 2007, becoming the first amateur side to feature in the tournament
- They achieved their best finish in 2014, earning a bronze medal thanks to a shootout win over Cruz Azul
- Across their 14 games they have won three, two of which coming in Dan Morgan's trip in 2009
That 3-2 victory was Morgan’s only taste of the tournament, leaving the northern giants soon after to join a succession of local Kiwi clubs in the regional leagues but last season enjoyed an eye-catching campaign with arch rivals Waitakere United. The attacking midfielder bagged eight goals in 17 games for the red and whites, attracting attention from Auckland City once more.
The lure of another adventure in the United Arab Emirates and a return to the Navy Blues was too good to turn down for the Auckland-native, now 27. "The Club World Cup gives players from New Zealand an insight as to how the other half live all the time in a professional environment,” Morgan explained, ahead of their 6 December meeting with the UAE champions.
"The crowds give you a lift and make you hungry to compete and prove that you belong on this stage and I can't wait to savour that feeling again.”
Morgan has experienced a win over the host country’s leading side before, seeing off Al Ahli 2-0 in his previous opener, but he insists it’s important to focus on the present and not past glories. "One of the best memories from that competition for me was Chad Coombes' screamer in the first game with Al Ahli, but Al Jazira will be tough.
"They are a very difficult opponent, technically very good and they are champions of the UAE for a reason,” he continued. "Al Jazira have very good players and we will need to be at our best to compete with them. But we know we will be well-briefed by Ramon Tribulietx on what to expect from them.”
And what should fans expect from Auckland City at this, their seventh straight FIFA Club World Cup appearance? Morgan smiles before he gives his answer in an indirect way. "I was speaking to Takuya Iwata when we did our warm-up at the start of the season and said this is exactly the same routine we did when I was last here in 2009.
"But that's a good thing because that methodology and repetition of style has brought the club the success it has enjoyed - why change something that is working so well?"