FIFA’s decision to introduce a playoff buffer in the Club World Cup to stop a repeat of Auckland City’s awful showing last year looked prescient four minutes into Friday night’s game between Iran’s Sepahan and Waitakere United, but despite finishing up 3-1 losers the Kiwis far from disgraced themselves.
Emad Mohamed put AFC Champions League runnerup Sepahan ahead in the third minute at Tokyo’s National Stadium with a header and doubled the lead seconds later with a clipped effort after a terrible mistake from Jonathan Perry and an embarrassing cuffing for the New Zealanders reared its ugly head.
Waitakere’s ragtag assortment of part-timers struggled throughout the first half and things got worse at the start of the second when Abdul Wahab Abu Al Hail’s long-range effort was comically bungled by ‘keeper Simon Eaddy, the ball trickling over the line.
To Waitakere’s credit, though, the Kiwis rallied and pulled a goal back when Darren Bazeley’s free-kick deflected off Sepahan defender Hadi Aghily to ‘keeper Mohammad Savari, who fumbled the ball over the line under pressure from Perry.
The Kiwis pushed for a second goal against a Sepahan side resting on its laurels, but despite some near misses in the last 10 minutes when they were clearly the better side they were unable to add to the score.
The Iranians ensured their chance to avenge the defeat to Urawa Reds in the ACL in their quarterfinal game on Monday in Toyota. The winner will play AC Milan in the semifinals three days later.
“We were more experienced and fortunately we scored two early goals and the match became easier for us,” said Sepahan coach Luka Bonacic.
“I’m happy for another chance to play Urawa, we lost the ACL final so we are now looking for revenge.”
Said Waitakere coach Christopher Milicich: “Two silly mistakes and we were two goals down and then another silly mistake and we were three down.
“But we settled in the last 20 minutes and did really well and could have scored a second or a third. We proved we deserve to be here at this tournament.”
CONCACAF champion CF Pachuca of Mexico plays African champion Etoile Sahel of Tunisia in the other quarterfinal on Sunday, with the winner facing South American champions Boca Juniors of Argentina in Wednesday’s semifinal.