Well, we’re one step closer to knowing who are going to be the World Club Champions. Or, rather, we aren’t. To be precise, we’re one step closer to knowing who aren’t going to be the World Club Champions. It isn’t going to be Auckland City, though this isn’t an enormous surprise – the amateurs made an almighty scrap of it and lasted until the fifty-first minute before buckling, but in the end this was a routine victory for the African champions, who look as if they have got a lot of work to do if they’re going to cause SC Internacional any serious difficulties in the semi-finals.
In all honesty, Ahly should have been have been two or three up by half-time – only tremendously profligate finishing prevented them from taking advantage of some extremely generous Auckland defending. They looked technically excellent in the middle third, but once the ball got anywhere near the Auckland goal, any semblance of composure went out of the window, and the ball ended up in the grateful arms of goalkeeper Nicholson or, more frequently, into the crowd behind the goal.
The breakthrough, when it eventually arrived, came six minutes into the second half, when Flavio turned past a defender on the edge of the penalty area and curled the ball into the top corner. It was a tremendous goal, especially considering the dislocated nature of what had preceded it, but Auckland City ultimately couldn’t subsequently raise their game to the level required to give the Egyptians any major cause for concern. The game was sewn up with seventeen minutes to go, when Aboutrika curled a delightful free-kick past Nicholson, who stood motionless in that special position that goalkeepers reserve for when a shot is flying past them which they know that they can’t do anything about. The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for the introduction of former Japan international Teri Iwamoto but, whilst he showed a decent first touch, he was clearly not match fit.
The atmosphere was what one might expect of such a match. FIFA announced the crowd as 29,900, but one would certainly question this, especially considering the vast banks of empty seats around the top tier of the stadium. Below us, there seemed to be an ongoing argument between a handful of perplexed looking stewards (and a solitary policeman) and about thirty Ahly supporters who seemed to be under the impression that they could, if they so chose, go and sit in the dug-out with the manager and the substitute. It all seemed to be fairly good natured, though and, considering that there seemed to be no more than a thousand or so of them, the level of noise that they made was impressive. Perhaps more will now fly out for the semi-finals. On this evidence, the team is going to need the fabled “twelfth man” that a good travelling support can bring them.
For Auckland City, there is only a fifth/sixth place play-off to look forward to, against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors or Club America, and they’re going to have their work cut out to avoid the wooden spoon. However, tonight they did at least demonstrate a commitment to trying to keep the ball on the floor, and they weren’t the total walk-over that we might have expected them to be. Having said all of that, though, they will have benefited immeasurably from the increased exposure and financial rewards from getting into this competition in the first place – and they’ll be another £5 or so better off if I’m successful in my next quest, which is to find an Auckland City scarf to bring home with me. If they’ve got any, I might bag myself a season ticket as well, while I’m about it. You know. Just in case.