A year on and a year wiser. That is the message Waitakere United coach Chris Milicich and club president Rex Dawkins are sending out to Australian rivals Adelaide United ahead of their crucial FIFA Club World Cup quarter-final playoff match in Tokyo on 11 December.
Last year, the reigning O-League champions suffered a painful 3-1 loss to Sepahan going down 2-0 after just four minutes of play when Abdul Ridha scored twice in a horror start for the Oceania champions.
Milicich is confident his team has learned lessons from their baptism of fire. "This year there are no surprises. Our preparation has been significantly better, and we've recruited players who will better handle the experience this time around. We've signed well, and our task is to make sure we settle quickly against Adelaide United."
A big confidence boost for the West Auckland-based Kiwi champions is the arrival of Brazilian midfield maestro Adriano Pimenta. Pimenta, formerly with FC Thun and Yokohama FC, has added guile and craft to a squad bristling with physical strength.
"Since we won the O-League we've been looking for a midfield player who's a playmaker of international standard. . We'd been chasing Adriano for a fair while, and getting him here is a real boost."
Milicich is adamant that the diminutive midfield man won't use his obvious pedigree as an excuse for special treatment. He insists Adriano is raring to go. "Adriano's not here reluctantly, he's come very motivated. His wife is here, they have a nice apartment and he's here to play football, he's not on big money and he wants to secure a future in the game for his family after Japan."
With Adelaide United awaiting the New Zealanders in Tokyo, Milicich believes Waitakere United's preparatory programme will be enough to prepare his team of part-timers for the challenge ahead. The O-League champions played A-League club Wellington Phoenix in a preparatory match recently, with more matches against professional opposition scheduled in China and Australia.
A heavy loss to New Zealand's only professional club, coached by national team coach Ricki Herbert, was a sobering reminder of the challenges ahead. But Milicich says the prospect of rekindling the trans-Tasman rivalry with Australia will work in his club's favour.
"We relish the opportunity to play an Australian club. There is the old Australia/New Zealand rivalry there, of course. We'll play against a side whose playing style we pretty much understand. As long as we can cope with and anticipate the angles and runs they will make we should do OK, as opposed to something new or unknown, like we faced against Sepahan in 2007."
Waitakere United have signed four new players. Aaron Scott and Ian Hogg are both New Zealand U-23 internationals fresh from an Olympic Games campaign in Beijing, while Fiji international striker Roy Krishna joins the ranks after debuting for United late last season. Benjamin Totori returns after a stint with professional USA club Portland Timbers.
"Benjamin is one of the tools we need to succeed in Japan. He has sheer electric pace, and he gave Sepahan a few scary moments. He like most of the players wants to go to Japan to prove that we can play at this level. We want to go there and rectify that for New Zealand and Oceania football."
One thing Milicich is looking forward too is experiencing the Japanese culture again. "Japan is a special country and the people are very supportive. They were exceptionally generous in their support and extremely professional in everything they do. I am excited about returning there, and remain hopeful we can improve this year," Milicich said.