Despite crashing out of the Club World Cup at the first hurdle once again, Waitakere United coach Christopher Milicich said they did enough to prove Oceania deserved to be in the tournament.
Detractors claim the confederation isn’t worthy of being in a tournament of continental champions that features quality teams like Manchester United, but Milicich feels differently.
“It was a tough loss,” he said after the New Zealanders slumped 2-1 to Adelaide United on Thursday evening. “But I think we categorically proved that Oceania deserve to be in this tournament. I think the players were given a set piece of instructions to do and followed it to the letter, and were incredibly professional and stayed in their shape and played the game plan.”
Unfancied Waitakere caused a surprise by taking a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute when midfielder Paul Seaman struck from close range after Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic saved a free-kick.
But five minutes later, Paul Reid floated the ball in from a corner with defender Daniel Mullen getting on the end of it to level matters.
Skipper Travis Dodd headed home the winner in the 83rd minute.
Waitakere, made up of semi-professionals, reached the big stage by becoming Oceania champions, a feat downgraded after Australia defected to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.
Last year, they went 2-0 down in the first four minutes before losing 3-1 to Iran’s Sepahan in their opening match, with their only goal being an own-goal.
Milicich admitted that Oceania was the weakest confederation and acknowledged they must improve their structure and tactics, but remained upbeat.
“Give me one more year to get there [reach the Club World Cup quarter-finals],” Milicich said.
“That’s the sort of difference between the team from last year and the team this year. In another two months, we will be there,” he said.
Adelaide coach Aurelio Vidmar praised Waitakere.
“It was a difficult game. Waitakere was very, very good, very, very strong, very well organized. We had to be a little bit patient.”