Auckland City’s surprise run to the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014 has earned them an intriguing match-up with Copa Libertadores champions San Lorenzo. Fresh from beating Africa’s two representatives, the OFC Champions League winners face their toughest assignment yet against the Argentinians, who will start the game as clear favourites. With Auckland having nothing to lose, however, the pressure will be on the South American side to perform.
San Lorenzo-Auckland City, Le Grand Stade de Marrakech, 17 December, 19.30
Four months have gone by since El Ciclón won the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history, becoming the final member of Argentina’s so-called big five to lift the famous trophy. The sense of relief that came with that long-awaited success is one of the possible causes of their indifferent form in the second half of the year. Coach Edgardo Bauza, who knows a thing or two about the Club World Cup, having steered Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito to the final in 2008, has nevertheless restored some balance to his midfield by signing Enzo Kalinski. And following some improved performances in the league of late, confidence is high again in the Ciclón camp.
The Argentinians, who have been training in Marrakech since Friday, have just the one doubt in defence, with Bauza yet to decide whether Mario Yepes or Mauro Cetto will start at centre half. Meanwhile, midfielder Leandro Romagnoli has recovered from the strained elbow he suffered in October and should see some action in the second half.
Their Kiwi opponents, who have only been in existence for ten years, have been reaching new landmarks in Morocco. The semi-professional outfit marked their defeats of Moghreb Tetouan and ES Setif in Rabat with joyous celebrations and are hungry for more unexpected success. Having suffered four first-round eliminations in their five previous appearances in the competition, Ramon Tribulietx’s side now head to Marrakech secure in the knowledge that they have made history for Oceania football, having become the first side from the region to reach the last four. As well as prestige, the Navy Blues’ Club World Cup exploits have also earned them $2m in prize money so far, a handsome sum that will allow them to develop their infrastructures and also give New Zealand football a boost.
9 - Argentinian teams won the Intercontinental Cup, contested by the champions of Europe and South America, on nine occasions. They have never lifted the FIFA Club World Cup, however. Boca Juniors and Estudiantes are the country’s only two clubs to have reached the final, but respectively lost to Milan in 2007 and Barcelona in 2009. Should San Lorenzo go on and claim the trophy in Morocco, Argentina will pull level with Brazil with ten titles in both competitions.
“The Club World Cup is a tournament you really want to play in, and just being here is going to take our levels of concentration and motivation up a level. I hope we can reach the final because there’s a lot at stake and because we’re representing CONMEBOL, a confederation with a great history behind it,” San Lorenzo coach Edgardo Bauza.
“I’ve got no idea how they play. All I know is that they’re on another level. We’re going to celebrate for now, have a rest, and then start thinking about how we’re going to take them on. Who knows what might happen? I’m sure our coach will pass all the information on, just as he did against Setif,” Auckland City defender John Irving.