A third consecutive OFC Champions League win and now a third consecutive appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup - could it be third time lucky for Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx?
The New Zealanders have belied their semi-professional status with admirable performances in their past two tournaments. Their high watermark so far, however, was a fifth place finish at Abu Dhabi 2009 in which the New Zealanders defeated local side Al Ahli and African kings TP Mazembe Englebert.
Now the club, who are heading into their fifth campaign, have strengthened in the off-season with former Everton defender John Irving, prolific Fiji international striker Roy Krishna, Rory Turner and Ryan de Vries all signing.
Angel Berlanga has also returned to bolster the ranks after a season in India with SC Goa. Tribulietx believes the domestic season, which recently commenced, offers Auckland City the best chance for success in the Moroccan city of Agadir.
"My feelings about this event are that it is an honour for us to be part of the Club World Cup, it is a unique accomplishment to be there three times in a row, but we have to focus on one game at a time.”
Building for success
Auckland City's pre-season consisted of nine games – eight of which they won - including a 1-0 victory over professional outfit Wellington Phoenix, and a 4-3 win over Ba from Fiji.
The win over Wellington carried a price as midfielder Albert Riera was snapped up by the A-League club, signing a professional contract within a week of the match-up.
Tribulietx prefers to focus on the positives the extensive campaign yielded. "We played nine pre-season games and have four national league matches prior to a training camp in native Barcelona (in late November).
"I think this is the way it should be, actually, you don't want to compare with European clubs, but they normally play between five and eight friendly matches before the season begins.
"You come from a period of time without competing or at an amateur level, like we have, and the best way to get back to a top level is playing proper games, not only training. The club has put in a big effort to make sure the pre-season programme has been good.
"It’s all very positive, I'm very happy how the team is shaping up and we've had time to readjust a couple of things whereas in previous years we maybe didn't have the opportunity to do so. This is the way to go, this is the future, four or five proper games makes sure the team is well prepared to start.”
Tribulietx, who has already visited Morocco for the tournament draw, is adamant the FIFA Club World Cup will be a very different prospect to the previous two editions in Japan. "We’re playing in a country that is mad about football,” he said. “In Japan it was good, but not so many people watched our games, I have a feeling our game with Raja Casablanca will be a sell-out.
"This is something we will have to address with the players - the atmosphere will be amazing and we need to make sure we perform at a high level. Raja Casablanca is one of the greatest clubs of all time in Africa and have won the Moroccan league a number of times.
"It’s great to be in Morocco, it’s a different culture and a great vibrancy about the culture, and I am excited by going back. We must try to enjoy the experience and be competitive and play well.”