For Auckland City, three months of intensive preparations were undone in just three minutes. It was in that miniscule space of time that the scoreline against Kashiwa Reysol went from 0-0 to 0-2, taking with it any hope they had of causing another FIFA Club World Cup sensation.
Yet although disappointed by the outcome, Ramon Tribulietx’s players are determined not to allow last night’s setback to halt football's recent ascent in their homeland. The game has been enjoying something of a boom in New Zealand thanks to the exploits of the national team and Auckland themselves, and Ivan Vicelich is determined to see that continue.
“There’s a buzz about football in New Zealand, kids are loving the game at the moment, and the more exposure we can give it, the better,” the Auckland captain told FIFA.com. “What we achieved in 2009 and the national team managed last year has taken the game to a new level back home, and the challenge for everyone is to keep that going.”
Taking that next step on the football ladder will be easier said than done of course, and Vicelich’s coach expressed a view last night that it can only be achieved through a professional league. Few, certainly, would dispute that Auckland are hampered by a domestic season that consists of just 14 competitive fixtures, with left-back Ian Hogg admitting that full-time football is the club’s “big target”.
He said: “It would be great if we could follow Australia by setting up something like the A-League, but New Zealand is a smaller country and I reckon that’s still quite a way off. At the moment, our league has very few competitive games and we know the standard isn’t as high as it is elsewhere around the world. Most of the guys also have full-time jobs, and I was at university this year, so it’s difficult to juggle those commitments.”
Vicelich, who spent seven years playing professionally in the Netherlands, knows better than most the benefits of full-time football. The veteran New Zealand international returned from Europe to “give something back” to the game in his homeland, although he concedes that he’s torn on the best route forward.
“We have the [Wellington] Phoenix playing in the [Australian] A-League, and that’s another pathway for our country’s youngsters,” said the 35-year-old. “Possibly having more New Zealand teams in the A-League is the way to go, although ideally we would love a fully professional league of our own. Either way, we need to keep pushing on.
“Making an impact here in Japan would have helped, and we’re disappointed that hasn’t happened. We knew it was going to be tough going up against the J.League champions, but when you get to 35 minutes at 0-0, looking pretty comfortable, you think it’s all going to plan. It just goes to show you how quickly your fortunes can turn.”