Team Wellington dare to 'dream big' ahead of Fifa Club World Cup debut in UAE

Team Wellington will embrace their "underdog" status at the Fifa Club World Cup, said manager Jose Figueira, as the club from New Zealand realise a four-year ambition by competing in the tournament.

Wellington booked their place in the 2018 tournament - being staged in the UAE for a second successive year - with a comprehensive 10-3 aggregate victory over Fiji’s Lautoka FC in the OFC (Oceania) Champions League final in May. It will be Wellington's first appearance at the Club World Cup, which comprises the six continental club champions and the host nations' league champions.

Wellington kick off the tournament against UAE champions Al Ain in the play-off on December 12 at Al Ain's Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. The winners progress to the quarter-finals for a showdown with African champions Esperance de Tunis, of Tunisia.

The Club World Cup will be a unique experience for semi-professional Wellington - a club that was only founded in 2004 - as they prepare to face a professional team from another continent in a competitive game for the first time. In comparison, their opponents Al Ain are celebrating 50 years in existence, while defending champions Real Madrid boast more than 116 years of history. 

“We are expecting the Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2018 to be a huge but exciting challenge for us. It is our first experience playing at this level, something we are very excited about and we are honoured to be representing our Oceania Football Federation region,” Wellington manager Figueira said.

“This tournament means a great deal to our club. Team Wellington are determined to use the experience to further strengthen our OFC Champions League title defence – and we hope to return to this tournament again in the near future.

“We are under no illusions that we enter this year’s Fifa Club World Cup as firm underdogs. Whilst the expectations for us may be low amongst many observers, we are a team that dreams big – and that dream starts in our opening match against Al Ain.”

Wellington's presence at the Club World Cup ends a seven-year stretch for Auckland City, who they beat on away goals in the OFC Champions League semi-finals. 

Wellington general manager Peter Becker has said the club's participation in the UAE is a result of a long-term project, and sights are already being set on qualifying for next year's tournament.

“This is an incredible opportunity to not only represent our club, but our city and country on the world stage. We are playing against top professional players and we want to perform to the best of our ability. As long as we give a good account of ourselves, I will be happy,” Becker said.

“Four years ago, we set out to play in the Fifa Club World Cup. It has taken us four years to achieve this goal. Now we want to qualify for next year's competition.

"We’ve gotten this far thanks to good coaches, good off-field management and, above all else, a great group of players that have really bought into the team vision.”

Asian champions Kashima Antlers and Central American champions Guadalajara are the other teams confirmed for the Club World Cup, and will play each other in the quarter-finals. The winners will then take on Real Madrid in the semi-finals.

Only one place remains open and will go to the winners of Sunday's Copa Libertadores - South America's equivalent of the Champions League - when Argentine rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate face off in the rearranged and relocated second leg

The score is tied at 2-2 after the first leg at Boca's Bombonera stadium, but the return fixture at River's Monumental was twice postponed after the Boca bus came under attack from fans en route to the venue. That game has now been moved to Real Madrid's Bernabeu and will be played on Sunday evening.

Story by: The National