When referee Carlos Simon blew the whistle to end the play-off for the quarter-final between Al Ahli and Auckland City at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the latter's players and coaches could barely contain their joy at becoming the first club from New Zealand to win a match at the FIFA Club World Cup.
Indeed, prior to the 2-0 success over the Dubai team on Wednesday, which earned the Kiwi outfit a last-eight date with CONCACAF champions Atlante, Auckland had failed to find the net in two previous games at the Japan 2006 event, both of which ended in defeat.
“I really can’t describe it, it feels fantastic," Jason Hayne, 23, told FIFA.com after the game. "The game panned out just the way we wanted. The boys are ecstatic right now. This tournament has not been a happy hunting ground for New Zealand clubs in the past but I think we’ve made a bit of history today."
The forward was superb throughout, with a performance which included the assist for Adam Dickinson’s 45th-minute opener. “To be honest, I didn’t know how to react when we scored the first goal," admitted Hayne.
"When Dicko knocked it in, we all just went crazy. You never forget moments like that, it was fantastic. Dicko adds something to our game, he makes us better," continued Hayne of his team-mate. "We get along great and you can see that when we play together.”
Dickinson, who thus became the scorer of Auckland’s first-ever goal at a FIFA Club World Cup, was all smiles as he made his way to the team bus. “I’m thrilled to have scored today,” said the man of the moment. Having battled back after nearly two years out due to serious knee injury, the match against Al Ahli was only the 23-year-old Englishman’s second appearance of 2009.
“It was an excellent game and we did ourselves proud. Assistant coach Ramon Tribulietx did a great job in ensuring we knew what to expect. We had a clear game plan, we stuck to it, and we got the win,” added Dickinson, who also works as a youth football coach.
Barcelona-born Tribulietx also earned praise from Hayne: “He knew all about Al Ahli and had us ready for them. Ramon’s work was spot on. With the video analysis and everything, we knew exactly what to expect from each of their players and the system they play.
“We come from a country where the main sports are rugby and cricket. But this year New Zealand football has made real progress. We’ve prepared long and hard for this tournament and now we’ve got our reward.”
Auckland now meet Mexican outfit Atlante in the quarter-finals, with Dickinson and Hayne fully aware of the threat posed by Santiago Solari and Co. “It’ll be very tough, they’re a strong team," said Dickinson. "But we know what we can do and we’re ready for it. We’ll do our homework on Atlante and work on a game plan for them."
Hayne added: “Our assistant coach has already studied their play and he’ll let us know who their key men are. We’ve just got to give our all out on the pitch and try our very best. There’s no other alternative.
“Sure, we’ve all dreamed of playing the likes of Barcelona. But we’re taking it one game at a time. We have a huge challenge against Atlante and that’s what we’re concentrating on right now. If we find our best form and things go our way, then maybe we’ll get to play Barça in the semi-final.”