By Brian Homewood
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx declared his team the moral winners after the part-timers took South American champions San Lorenzo to extra-time and came close to a meeting with Real Madrid in the Club World Cup.
The New Zealanders eventually lost their semi-final 2-1, ending a run in which they had already seen off Moghreb Tetouan, champions of host nation Morocco, and African champions ES Setif.
San Lorenzo will face Real Madrid in Saturday’s final in Marrakech.
“We are the moral winners by a mile, pushing the South American champions, not losing in 90 minutes and even having the chance to win the game,” Tribulietx told reporters.
“Losing in extra-time is a big win as far as we’re concerned, we are very proud of it and we will remember this for a long time.”
Auckland’s team includes a zoology student, lawyer, delivery truck driver, grass roots soccer coaches and retail assistant, yet Tribulitex said his team looked like the professionals at times on Wednesday night.
“At times it, looked like we were the professional team, we had the ball and they were on the back foot,” he said.
“To force this team back, imagine, that’s spectacular for us. This is the fruit of a lot of patience and a lot of work by a lot of people, it produces fruit.”
“We proved we can be competitive on a big stage and I’m very proud.”
Auckland are taking part in the Club World Cup for a record sixth time, thanks to their dominance in the Oceania Champions League, and this is only the second time they have gone beyond the preliminary round.
“We’ve got a lot of interest, there have been a lot of people watching the game in New Zealand and it is difficult to drag people to watch football in a rugby nation,” said Tribulietx.
“We’ve done ourselves a favour and I hope the game in New Zealand develops a little further.”
San Lorenzo coach Edgardo Bauza agreed that Auckland had caused his side a lot of problems.
“Regardless of whether they are amateurs or not, they defend well, they force you to run a lot and work hard and they wear their opponents down,” said the man known as ‘Big Foot.’
“It was difficult, just like we expected.”