FIFA Club World Cup favourites Barcelona might be on a different footballing planet from minnows Auckland City, but the Kiwis can at least boast of some unlikely connections with the Spanish giants. Prolific Auckland striker Manel Exposito made his debut for Barcelona on the same day superstar Lionel Messi made his first appearance for Barça, while the Oceania champions have another former Barcelona man in Andreu Guerao.
And the association between part-timers Auckland and their more illustrious counterparts does not end there - Ramon Tribulietx, Auckland's coach, is from Barcelona and has adopted the Spaniards' attractive pass-and-move approach. "When I scored the goal in the (Oceania) final and I knew we would be champions, I actually started to think about it then during the game," Exposito said recently of a possible reunion with Barcelona.
The 30-year-old was with the reigning Spanish and European champions from 2002 to 2005, and like Messi made his first-team debut in November 2003 against Porto. But Exposito's progress was hampered by injury and he played for a number of other Spanish clubs before finding himself at Auckland, the rank outsiders at the seven-side intercontinental showpiece that starts tomorrow in Japan.
Auckland take on J.League winners Kashiwa Reysol to kick the tournament off and they would need to pull off the highly unlikely - make the final - if they are to stand any chance of facing the mighty Barça. However Expositio is happy to have much smaller goals in relation to his former side. "I hope I can see Barcelona in this tournament, that would mean everything in the world."