YOKOHAMA – Auckland City’s colorful cast of part-timers have no problem with their underdog status ahead of their Club World Cup clash against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, but striker Manel Exposito has warned the Japanese champions to be ready for a fight in the playoff opener on Thursday.
Auckland, whose diverse squad includes a lawyer’s clerk, a model and a waiter, will be representing the Oceania region at the global club showpiece for the fourth time after beating Tefana of Tahiti 3-1 on aggregate earlier this year.
Auckland faces Hiroshima for the right to reach the quarterfinals and a possible meeting with African champions Al-Ahly.
“Most of the players have to work as we are not professional and some of the players study as well. For us to come here is a big, big thing because we can leave our jobs and come here like a professional team,” Exposito said after training on Monday.
“We need to be realistic. We know we are the underdogs and it is going to be really, really hard so the pressure is for them. We are looking relaxed and sharp and have a lot of confidence because we have been here last year as well. For us it is easier to be underdogs”
Auckland made a nervous start last year and conceded two first-half goals in a 2-0 defeat to Kashiwa Reysol.
“Last year . . . was the first time for me to play at a FIFA Club World Cup,” said Exposito. “It took us 30 minutes to settle down in that game and we also conceded two goals. It is completely different this time. We know exactly where we are going and what the feeling will be like so it will be completely different to last year.”
Auckland has tasted some success at this level, however. In 2009, in Abu Dhabi the club defeated the host representative as well as Africa’s champions.
Teru Iwamoto turned out for Auckland at the 2006 Club World Cup and Kazuyoshi Miura, a living legend in Japan, has also played in the tournament for Sydney FC.
Auckland will have some inside information this time round after recently signing former FC Gifu defender Takuya Iwata, although Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx appears to have already done plenty of thorough research on his opponents.
“We have done our job in the background and for a long time we have been watching Hiroshima and Sendai. I expected Hiroshima to win the league because they have been the best team and we have learned most things from them,” said Tribulietx, who picked out J. League leading goalscorer Hisato Sato, Mihail Mikic and Koji Morisaki as the dangermen.
“They are a very technical side and very good in possession. They have got very good players: Hisato, the No. 11 who plays up front and the top goalscorer in the league, and Mikic is a very important player for them. Morisaki the playmaker is very good.”
He added, “We know it is going to be difficult. They have technically some of the best players in the Japanese league and we are going to try and prepare as well as we can and see what happens. In a game of football anything can happen and we will give it our best shot.”