Better luck next time
© Foto-net

The opening match of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 was always going to be a battle between David and Goliath. In one corner were Adelaide United, a fully professional outfit, playing in a professional league and finalists of the blue chip AFC Champions League. Their opponents, Waitakere United, in contrast were part-timers, who regularly play against fellow part-timers both in domestic and continental competition.

Yet, while on this occasion, Goliath won the day, Chris Milicich's outfit can point to the fact that the deficit was by a narrow margin - and strides have been made since their last appearance in this competition when they lost 3-1 to Iranian side Sepahan in the corresponding fixture in 2007. On that occasion, they found themselves two goals behind in the opening five minutes. This year, they were just seven minutes away from extra time; a message not lost on coach Milicich.

Based on what I have seen tonight, we will reach the next round of this tournament in 2009, if we're fortunate enough to qualify from Oceania.
Waitakere United coach Chris Milicich has been boosted by his side's display against Adelaide United.

"We've got our pride back," he told after the match. "I think everyone could see that our defensive structure, as well as our adherence to the gameplan had improved beyond recognition. "One of the differences between ourselves and other teams from around the world is that they have better experience - and that's why this competition is crucial for us.  

"In the past 12 months, it's that this group of men have developed into a really strong unit which has made a team coming out of the weakest confederation compete with team from one of the strongest confederation. Based on what I have seen tonight, we will reach the next round of this tournament in 2009, if we're fortunate enough to qualify from Oceania."

Rough diamonds
Stand-in skipper Neil Emblen, who deputised for the injured Danny Hay agrees with his coach. "If we make two or three additions to the squad like we did this year, I believe we can do it," he said.

"In terms of the result, we took them close, but we also must admit that Adelaide were the better team and they were in control of the game," said stand-in skipper Neil Emblen. "However, our plan to frustrate them worked and perhaps with a little more potency in the final third, we could have embarrassed them. But when you get chances against a team like Adelaide, you have to take them."

The former English Premier League midfielder is hopeful that Waitakere's visible improvement will provide a boost to football in the country and believes that the Kiwis must look to the example of their trans-Tasman rivals in order to make the step up to the next level.

"Obviously, there's a stark contrast between football England and New Zealand," continued the former Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Wolves midfielder. "England has 92 professional clubs, while in New Zealand there's only one. Although football is well played up until the age of 15, it is a rugby nation. We're always going to be fighting that - and we're always going to be fighting to get sponsors, but hopefully we've given club football in New Zealand a bit of a shot in the arm with our performance tonight.

"The standard of football in New Zealand is improving all the time and there are some talented footballers around. Roy Krishna and Allan Pearce are both young internationals with the potential of making a career out of the game, while Benjamin Totori is also a real talent and with proper full-time coaching, I'm sure he could do it as well. I think we've got to look to the example of Australia who have come on leaps and bounds over the past 10-15 years - and do our best to emulate that."