The FIFA Club World Cup of continental champions kicks off here on Thursday with a show of rivalry as Adelaide United and Waitakere United clash for a spot in the quarter-finals.
The Auckland outfit, made up of many "semi-professionals" who have other jobs outside football such as teachers, builders and corporate managers, reached the big stage by becoming Oceania champions, as they did last year. It put them in the preliminary play-off, which was created in 2007 to ensure participation for the host nation Japan.
Japan qualified this year in their own right when Gamba Osaka became Asian champions, with their reserved seat handed to Adelaide for finishing runners-up in the AFC Champions League. Adelaide coach Aurelio Vidmar said the "dynamic of Australian football" has changed for playing in Asia. "I think, and that's with due respect to the clubs in Oceania, the quality of games is at a much higher level," he said.
Adelaide have never fought Waitakere before but Vidmar said the New Zealanders' experience in the FIFA Club World Cup "is a big plus to them." Asked if a loss to Waitakere would be embarrassing for Australian football, Vidmar said: "If I know the players have given everything that they possibly can to win, then you can never question their effort." A 6-1 win over the Wellington Phoenix on Friday lifted the Reds to the top of the A-League and gave them confidence, he added.
Brazilian winger Cassio, who scored twice against Wellington, and homegrown defender Sasa Ognenovski contracted a virus after the first night in Japan, but were expected to recover for the game. A win over Waitakere would give Adelaide a chance to avenge Gamba, whom they would meet next, with giants Manchester United awaiting the winners of that showdown in the semi-fianls.
Waitakere played the Phoenix in a recent warm-up match and got information on Adelaide from them, Milicich said. "We've done a lot of analysis on them. They are a strong side with quality and unity."
In the past year Waitakere have signed players like Fiji international striker Roy Krishna, 21 while former J-League and Swiss League midfielder Adriano Pimenta of Brazil joined them in October. "It's all about redemption for us," Waitakere captain and former Leeds United defender Danny Hay said, recalling the 2007 playoff in which they conceded two soft goals in the first five minutes. "We cannot start half asleep like we did last year."