Portuguese on shortlist for World Player of the Year a week after losing European title.
|Auckland’s players celebrate their goal much to Al Ahli’s despair [AFP]|
Auckland FC have capped a triumphant year for New Zealand football with a stunning 2-0 win over Al Ahli at the Club World Cup opener in Abu Dhabi.
The New Zealand side beat the local favourites in the first ever victory for an Oceania representative in the eight team competition, ensuring their progress to the quarter-finals.
Al Ahli had been expected to win on home turf in the United Arab Emirates as the smaller sides bid to reach the later stages of the tournament, when European giants Barcelona and South American champions Estudiantes come in.
Adam Dickinson and Chad Coombes scored in each half for the Oceania champions, who will now face Mexico’s Atlante on Saturday.
Dickinson missed a chance in the 17th, sending his shot into goalkeeper Yousif Abdulla’s legs.
Al Ahli had more chances in a scrappy first half until English striker Adam Dickinson latched on to a fine cross from Jason Hayne on the right wing and shot from close range just before half-time to give Auckland the lead.
The UAE League champions had the chance to level the game less than a minute later but captain Salem Khamis’ shot from 10 yards out sailed over the crossbar.
“If we had scored an equalising goal in the first half, that would have given us a good advantage,” Al Ahli coach Mahdi Redha said.
“The team today really didn’t play very well.”
Coombes doubled the New Zealand champions’ lead when his blistering second half 30-yard strike found the back of the net at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium.
“Chad’s goal was just class,” Auckland coach Paul Posa told a news conference.
“Chad Coombes is someone I feel is just starting to blossom.”
Al Ahli substitute Mehrzad Madanchi’s shot from the edge of the area was tapped over the crossbar by the goalkeeper.
Brazilian striker Bare went close for Al Ahli in the second half but Auckland survived late pressure to progress to the quarter-finals against Atlante.
“The key for us was the homework we did on Al Ahli. We knew how they were going to play so we had a system to counter that,” Posa said.
“For us this was a cup final.”
Oceania champions Auckland play in the eight-team amateur New Zealand Football Championship, which began in 2004. They have won the domestic title four times.
The winner of the Atlante game will be richly rewarded with a showdown against Spanish giants, Barcelona in the semi-finals on December 16.
The tournament, which runs until December 19, brings together the champions of Fifa’s six confederations as well as host team Al Ahli.