It was, in one respect, a typical Thursday morning for Chad Coombes. It was 6.40am Auckland time and he was preparing to go to work. The 26-year-old was not, however, on his way to Rutherford College, where he habitually teaches physical education and health to 13 to 18-year-olds.
This time his classroom was the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, where it was 7.40pm on Wednesday. This time the right winger’s lesson would be about sacrifice and discipline. Oh, and how to score a left-footed piledriver worthy of Roberto Carlos’s hallowed collection.
It was a goal that secured Auckland City a 2-0 victory over local team Al Ahli in the curtain-raiser to the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, and earned the Kiwi underdogs a quarter-final date with Mexico’s Atlante.
Coombes’s contribution to Auckland’s conquest was far from limited to his long-range thunderbolt. He had prepped himself to play in his customary position on the right flank. He knew the drill. He had scrutinised the opponent he would be directly up against. He felt ready, upbeat.
Then James Pritchett failed a late fitness test, and coach Paul Posa redeployed Coombes to right-back. “I found out about 20 minutes before kick-off,” said the No8. “It was no big deal to me. It’s about doing what’s best for the team, although I obviously prefer to play in a more advanced position.”
Coombes, to his credit, stayed disciplined to his new role, and his assured performance helped Auckland take a 1-0 lead in at break. When he did stroll forward on 67 minutes, a headed clearance fell into his path. There appeared, however, remote danger. The Hamiton native was, after all, 30 yards from goal and on his weaker foot.
Yet seconds later, Coombes had rocketed the ball into the roof of the Al Ahli net. “I’ve never hit the ball so sweetly with my left foot,” he said. “It was the best goal I’ve ever scored. The only thing I got wrong was the celebration – I really want to score again at this tournament, so I’ll have to prepare something for next time.”
Next up for Auckland is a collision with the kings of CONCACAF tomorrow. “We’ve been watching videos of Atlante and we know it will be very tough for us,” admitted Coombes. “They’re a great side with some experienced and outstanding professionals. We know we’ll be up against it but we’ll do our best to cause an upset.
“Whatever happens, though, we’ve already done better than most people expected. It’s a great period for soccer in New Zealand. Jacob and Ivan were part of the squad that qualified for the World Cup, and we were all there supporting them. Now Auckland are in the quarter-finals of the Club World Cup. It’s been a fantastic experience for me.”
Coombes accepts Auckland’s chances of booking a semi-final meeting with Barcelona are “very slim”. So, too, were his chances of scoring such an improbable goal in a defeat of Al Ahli. Can City write another, more emphatic chapter in their FIFA Club World Cup fairy tale tomorrow evening?