Lure of FIFA payday on line for Auckland

WELLINGTON - If Auckland City's amateurs had any doubts that Sunday's Oceania Football Confederation final could be the pinnacle of their footballing lives, co-coach Aaron McFarland made sure the message got through loud and clear.

With a potential $500,000 payday on the line against Amicale of Vanuatu, McFarland hammered home that Sunday's second leg could be the last time they play for the amateur club from New Zealand's largest city.

Auckland are in the driving seat after winning the first leg 2-1 in Port Vila on April 2 and Sunday's season-ending game will determine the Oceania champions and guarantee an invitation to FIFA's lucrative Club World Cup in Japan in December.

As is the nature of New Zealand's national league that runs during the southern hemisphere's summer, the team will disband immediately after the final whistle at Kiwitea Street.

"It's the last game of the season and who knows, in theory you could have a completely different staff or group of players representing Auckland City at the Club World Cup," McFarland told Reuters via telephone.

"It's (an) amateur (club) but every player needs to hold a contract that expires at the end of this game. So it's all about this weekend... and getting Auckland City into the Club World Cup."

McFarland said while some players might move to professional clubs overseas, change to other amateur teams, or not be re-contracted when the national league resumes later this year, he expected the majority to be retained should they qualify.

"In reality, a lot of players will be motivated to go back to the Club World Cup and regardless of who the coach is they will want to retain the core of this team," he added.

"But (the message), is it's all about this weekend."


McFarland said the squad were mostly university students while the rest worked full-time jobs ranging from signwriting, coaching, and in the retail sector while one was holding down a professional position in the finance industry.

Like their predecessors, however, they had adopted a professional approach to their season and the OFC competition.

"I reckon the players are the most committed in the country," he said. "We train four times a week and play one match so that's five times a week they're all together.

"I don't see any other sides outside of the national team doing that on a regular basis. That's a huge commitment to ask of people who have normal jobs.

"So the players and staff have a very professional outlook but the board and all backroom staff are very organised as well.

"It's run on the dedication of volunteers... they just love the game so much."

While the Auckland squad includes 2010 World Cup All Whites Ivan Vicelich and David Mulligan, they also secured the services of three Spanish players including Manel Exposito, who played for Barcelona and trained with Atletico Madrid.

Exposito scored the first goal in Port Vila, where almost 8,000 people packed into the ground and hundreds more watched on from vantage points on trees and buildings surrounding the venue.

"It was an incredible atmosphere," McFarland said.

"The game was at 3pm but apparently the ground was full by 12pm and people were just sitting there waiting."

McFarland said they could fit just 3,500 spectators into their ground in suburban Auckland "if they all sit on the grass bank" and it would be difficult to match that atmosphere.

"When they (Amicale) scored their goal to equalise it was one of the loudest roars I have ever heard, and I live near Eden Park," he said referring to the venue for this year's rugby World Cup final.

"My ears were ringing from that roar, they were just so excited."