The quarter-final stage of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009 brought an end to Auckland City's dream of a semi-final against the mighty Barcelona. The Kiwi outfit fought valiantly but went down 3-0 to Mexican side Atlante, leaving them facing a match for fifth place against TP Mazembe from Congo DR.
"Naturally we're really disappointed," Auckland captain Ivan Vicelich, by far the most experienced player in his squad, told FIFA.com after the game. We knew that it would be a very tough match, but we got off to a great start. The boys were really focused and gave it 110 per cent. Then we let in that unlucky goal, which was pretty frustrating, but we didn't lose heart."
Daniel Arreola's 36th-minute goal was very much the responsibility of Adam McGeorge, who failed to clear the ball at a corner and merely succeeded in setting up his Mexican counterpart for the easiest of finishes. Not that Vicelich was handing out any criticism.
"Mistakes like that are part and parcel of football," said the New Zealand international. "That wasn't the reason why we lost. We were up against a team full of excellent individual players and they were simply better than us on the day."
Until they opened the scoring, however, Atlante had failed to create any real chances, which was down in no small part to Auckland's water-tight defensive organisation. "When you face a team like Atlante, you have to be realistic," said Vicelich. "You can't just go out and take the game to them, they're a class above the likes of us. The plan was to play more defensively than usual and until we let one in, it was a tight match."
The first 15 minutes of the second half saw the New Zealanders prove that they were indeed worthy of their quarter-final berth at the Abu Dhabi tournament. Jason Hayne and Chad Coombes, in particular, caused a number of problems to the CONCACAF champions down the right flank. Auckland pressed for an equaliser, with Coombes having a chance a mere three minutes after the break, while Dickinson was well set up by Hayne on the hour mark.
"In the second half we tried to press forward more to get the goal that we needed, but the chances just refused to go in," added Vicelich. "A goal at that point would have changed the whole complexion of the match."
The final score of 3-0 was probably a fair reflection, however, since the Colts very much took their foot off the pedal in the dying minutes once the result was beyond doubt.
"The Mexicans have got some excellent players in their team who are quick and technically very strong," Vicelich continued. "We tried to hold back the tide and catch them on the break – that was about all we could hope for. It was still a great experience for the boys to play against a club like that though.
"I think we all enjoyed the match and it's great to be here in what has been an incredible year for football in New Zealand. We worked very hard back in Auckland to get to this World Cup and we're very proud of what we've achieved. We've done better than any other New Zealand team has ever done before and we made history with our win over Al Ahli."
The Kiwis still have one match left to play, when they face CAF Champions League winners TP Mazembe next Wednesday for fifth place, and Vicelich is determined for his team to leave this, the highest of stages for world club football, with a flourish.
"We'll have a day off now so that the team can get some rest and get their strength up, but we've been focusing on this final match ever since the referee blew for full time in the last one. I'm expecting Mazembe to be tough opponents.
"We'll have to put in a good performance if we want to beat the Africans. We will be preparing intensively for the match, and once it's under way we'll give 100 per cent and hopefully manage our second win here in Abu Dhabi."