Waitakere United may have come into existence as recently as 2004, but the club from West Auckland have already made a significant impact on the national, continental and global football scenes. Their fledgling history already shows two New Zealand Football Championship Minor Premiership crowns, one full league championship - clinched in April 2008 - as well as two O-League crowns and a short-lived but enjoyable FIFA Club World Cup debut in 2007, when they went down 3-1 to Sepahan.
While Milicich and his players relished this brief FIFA Club World Cup bow, they departed Japan with the frustrating knowledge that affording their Iranian opponents too much respect, combined with costly individual errors, had seen them fail to grasp the opportunity presented. Consequently, Waitakere made returning to the global showpiece their major focus and set about defending their continental title with a zeal that befitted the prize at stake.
With their experienced captain Danny Hay once again leading by example, the club cruised past Tahiti's AS Manu Ura and domestic nemesis Auckland City in the O-League group stage to book a final date with Kossa FC. The team from the Solomons were worthy opponents, and looked favourites after a 3-1 first leg win, but a thumping 5-0 victory in the return ultimately underlined Waitakere's superiority. A key factor in the Kiwis' success was their strength in set piece situations and this, along with the experience of seasoned professionals such as Hay and Neil Emblen will be key their hopes of improving on last year's showing.
While Hay and Emblen, who will be 33 and 37 respectively by the time Japan 2008 comes around, remain pivotal figures in Waitakere's line-up, the club is attempting to add a more youthful flavour to its squad by investing heavily in a grassroots programme and elite youth academy. These aspects are developing at pace, with courses and classes for children of all ages already seeking out stars of the future.
For the moment, however, Waitakere's future is dominated by a more immediate target. "The whole focus now is on Japan - and doing better than the last time," Milicich has said. "We'll head there with the benefit of experience and much better prepared [than last year]."
Danny Hay (defender), Neil Emblen (midfielder)
Four wins, one draw and one defeat from six games; 11 goals scored, five conceded.
The numbers game
12 - the number of clean sheets Waitakere kept in 22 NZFC matches during season 2007/08.