There's a popular saying in football circles: 'never look past your next game'. But apparently this old bit of wisdom has not yet made its way down to the South Seas as New Zealand's Auckland FC - who are set to line up as Oceania's representatives at the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan this December - are already setting their sights on qualification for the 2007 showpiece.
Only AS Magenta of New Caledonia and Vanuatu's Port Vila stand between the New Zealanders, in qualifying Group A, and a place in the Oceania (OFC) Champions League final next April. The winner of the Oceania showdown will go on to represent the confederation at the 2007 instalment of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Mighty Auckland are considered favourites to take the laurels in Group A, which will consist of home/away series in January, February and March. The winners of each group will then battle it out for the Champions League title and a spot at the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup.
The New Zealand outfit will be fancying their chances after finishing top of the heap in the last OFC Club Championship back in May.
Coach Roger Wilkinson will be in a tough spot as the qualifiers for the 2007 event and the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup will come in a tense two months in December and January, when the domestic championship is in full swing.
"We're aware of our Champions League opposition now and the boys have experience at this level but it's different from a tournament which will present different types of problems," Wilkinson, who is getting set for the season opener on 14 October, told nzsoccer.com "We've got to be very professional in the way we approach it."
The coach is also keen not to take his island opposition lightly, even after breezing through the regional championship last May.
"We know the level of play has improved in the islands, particularly in the Solomon Islands, and of course Tahiti have always had a strong soccer culture," Wilkinson said. "We can't take anyone lightly because each of the new clubs will present new problems. We have to do our homework but just as important is the way we play…we've got to be strong and effective."
The exact dates of the home/away OFC Champions League series have yet to be finalised, but are expected to take place in the third weeks of January, February, March and April.