For modest Auckland City, who arrived in Morocco with little hope of success but go home as the tournament’s surprise package, the 11th FIFA Club World Cup will go down in history. And for team captain Ivan Vicelich, a bronze medal represents a fitting climax to a long career.
Despite successive disappointing campaigns at the Club World Cup, the 38-year-old veteran never lost hope. Instead, he grew more determined each year, as though he knew this Auckland side, led by Ramon Tribulietx, would be able to improve on previous performances. What he could never have imagined was how far the team could go. Auckland City have taken New Zealand football into uncharted territory.
After the penalty shoot-out win over Cruz Azul that clinched third place, Vicelich talked with FIFA.com about his delight at the team’s campaign and explained how, as well as making history, Auckland’s performances may bring about a revolution in Kiwi football.
FIFA.com: Before the tournament no one imagined that Auckland City could finish in third place. It must have been the perfect way to cap such a wonderful campaign.
Ivan Vicelich: It was. We’re thrilled to clinch third place at the Club World Cup. It’s a very special moment for a New Zealand club. We managed to recover from playing for 120 minutes in the semi-final, train well, and then give another strong performance. But we’re proud of everything we’ve achieved in the tournament, not just today’s game. We can say that we’ve made history.
Expectations weren’t high when the team arrived in Morocco, yet you almost reached the final. The players were visibly dejected after the semi-final defeat against San Lorenzo, so does that show just how well Auckland City did?
It’s true. We were indeed disappointed because we played well and felt we could have won the game. That’s pretty surprising when you think that we were up against San Lorenzo, the South American champions. We were disappointed, but as I said, we moved on quickly, and focused on making third place our goal. We took to the pitch today with the aim of winning a medal at a World Cup, and making this a really memorable campaign. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved.
What moments stood out for you in particular?
I think the way we played in all four games. We wanted to show the world that we could compete against the best, and we managed it. We did ourselves proud in each match, which is really important for a team from New Zealand. All the players and the coaching staff deserve to be congratulated. Nobody thought we'd get this far.
Can the way you played set an example for New Zealand football?
It’s difficult to think of it like that, because our style of play is the result of five or six years of hard work. It’s a different type of football to what you usually see in New Zealand, but we’ve shown that a fresh approach can work. It’s helped us not just to win games and trophies, but also to attract new players, and establish the club as a model for New Zealand football. We’re small, but we’re passionate about football, as are our fans. I hope that the example we’ve set will have a positive effect on the way football is played in the country, from the senior national side to the youth teams. There’s a really promising new generation of players coming through.
You have made headlines all over the world. What do you think the reception will be like when you return home?
It will be amazing. We received so much support from back home, from the media, the fans and our families. Football isn’t the most popular sport in New Zealand, but we’ve managed to put the game in the spotlight. Now it’s time to celebrate. It’s no small feat to win a medal in a tournament as important as this.
Have you thought about playing in the Club World Cup again, and trying to go even further?
Well, that's another story. But we never thought we’d surpass 2009, when we finished fifth. Coming third is really amazing. It would be a dream to do this every year, but we know how hard it is.
You’re 38 now. What are your plans for the coming years?
To be honest the penny hasn’t really dropped yet. I'll need some time to think about what lies ahead. I've been playing for a long time, and I’ve played many times for the national team too. At the moment, I’m just thinking about enjoying the moment. I know I can help by passing on my experience to the younger players, and being involved in the development of sport in New Zealand.