For the first time since 2010, Auckland City will not be present at the FIFA Club World Cup. Oceania’s juggernauts for so long, and the side with a record nine appearances at the tournament, Auckland’s reign as continental kings came to an end earlier this year with compatriots Team Wellington taking the crown.
After experiencing heartbreak in three consecutive OFC Champions League finals to the Navy Blues, Team Wellington exorcised their demons by defeating their New Zealand rivals in the semi-finals. The TeeDubs’s long wait for continental glory then came to an end after a high-scoring aggregate victory in the final against Fijian outfit Lautoka.
"It meant a lot and it was a huge achievement for everyone involved," said Wellington captain Justin Gulley, in conversation with FIFA.com. “It’s a massive step forward for the club and hopefully that trend continues."
"It’s always good to have someone new going to the Club World Cup and we’re glad it’s us," Gulley continued. "It’s something we’ve tried really hard over the last few years to achieve and the rewards have finally come about.”
Gulley has been a key figure behind Team Welly’s success. The side’s skipper at just 25-years-old, Gulley has enjoyed an unforgettable 2018.
After helping Jose Figueira’s men to the OFC Champions League and securing a berth at their maiden global finals in the United Arab Emirates, the defender made his senior international debut for New Zealand in June and has since followed up with an additional two caps.
"The Club World Cup will be a special way to finish off the year, it’s been a memorable one for me personally," he said. "I’m really excited for it and I’m looking forward to playing in what looks like an amazing country and seeing what we can do."
All eyes on Al Ain
Welcoming Welly to the UAE will be host club Al Ain, who present a formidable test to the "100 per cent amateur" outfit from New Zealand. As well as possessing home advantage, with the opening game taking place at their usual home Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain boast several players with international experience.
Most notable of the lot is powerful frontman Marcus Berg, an attacking regular in the Sweden side that recorded their best FIFA World Cup™ finish in 24 years at Russia 2018. It’s a staggering contrast to what Wellington are usually accustomed to facing.
"It’s always good to come up against high quality players and see what you can do," said Gulley. "It’s going to be a huge test, especially with them being the host nation. There’s going to be a lot going against us."
It is a challenge, though, that Gulley and the spirited TeeDubs are relishing.
"We’re a young and hungry team. We want to prove ourselves on that world stage and show what we’re made of and what we can do,” asserted Gulley. "We’re not going there for a holiday – we’re definitely going to be putting up a massive challenge to whoever we face and see how far we can go."
The odds may be against Gulley and Welly at UAE 2018. But rivals Auckland’s bronze medal finish four years ago in Morocco shows the unthinkable is not impossible for Oceania’s representatives at the Club World Cup.
Story by: FIFA.com