Auckland City FC is back for a fourth FIFA Club World Cup and skipper Ivan Vicelich says reaching the latter stages beyond the play-off against the J.League champions on 6 December remains the biggest challenge.
Capped a record 85 times for New Zealand, the enduring Vicelich has set his sights on guiding Auckland through to the next round of the FIFA Club World Cup.
But the former Roda JC defender admits the task facing the Oceania champions in Japan is far from easy.
“Our goal is to go through to the next round. But it’s going to be very difficult as we experienced last year,” Vicelich told FIFA.com. “As an amateur club it’s a big challenge and very difficult, but getting to the next stage for any team at this tournament is the aim, and we're no different,”
Auckland City are the only amateur club in the competition but have proved more than competitive in the past, notably finishing fifth in 2009.
So how does Vicelich maintain his high standards in a domestic competition that is essentially an amateur environment?
“I'm very fortunate to be at a club that trains as close to a professional level as possible,” he said. “At a high professional level you learn how to prepare physically and mentally and it helps you get to that next level, be it on the club or international stage. I've been very lucky that Auckland City’s high benchmark on and off the pitch enabled me to continue playing at international level.”
Putting past experiences to good use
Vicelich’s experience includes a starring role for New Zealand at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, as well as that memorable FIFA Club World Cup campaign in Abu Dhabi in 2009.
And the towering central defender believes that the experience garnered from last year’s performance against Kashiwa Reysol - a 2-0 defeat - can only help Auckland put in another respectable effort.
“The players are working on the right system and to play in a way that helps us achieve our overall goals for the Club World Cup,” says Vicelich.
“It’s a big step up from our league to international standard. But we'll give it the best shot we can and our experience against Kashiwa Reysol will stand us in good stead for this campaign.”
In that match, Auckland City trailed 2-0 before David Mulligan, and then Vicelich, had efforts cleared off the line in a second half rally.
“I thought we played well against Kashiwa Reysol last season and after a good start really turned on a performance in the second half."
The squad has come together at a good time and we hope to peak for the play-off game. But it’s difficult to judge where we stand, but we will prepare thoroughly to ensure we give another good account of ourselves.”
Vicelich may have celebrated his 36th birthday, but he shows no sign of slowing down with two young children and a new business venture with wife Marisa, and another potential FIFA World Cup appearance on the horizon with New Zealand at Brazil 2014.
“Age hasn’t really come into it,” said the veteran skipper. “I take each game as it comes just so long as I remain passionate about the game. Parenthood also changes you – it’s a totally different mind-set from when you are younger.”