Oceania champions Hekari United were not prepared to renounce their attacking instincts, their coach said, after the Papua New Guinean club crashed out of the first round of the Club World Cup.
Hekari lasted no more than one match as they were beaten 3-0 by hosts al-Wahda, the United Arab Emirates champions, in the tournament opener on Wednesday night.
“I believe attack is a defensive weapon,” said coach Tommy Mana, one of several Solomon Islanders involved in the Port Moresby side, as he defended his team’s commitment to going forward.
He said Hekari, a team of part-timers founded only seven years ago, had suffered lapses in concentration that allowed al-Wahda to settle the match with two goals in the five minutes before halftime.
“It happened in just five minutes. Our plan was to score early ... We lost our possession,” Mana told the post-match news conference.
“We just slipped up in those five minutes. When you make errors, that’s it,” added Mana, whose team conceded a third goal in the 71st minute.
Hekari created the first clear chance of the match when, at a corner in the sixth minute, defender Pita Bolatoga, one of several Fijians in the side, headed at goal only for the ball to be cleared off the line.
In the end, though, they only forced home goalkeeper Adel al-Hosani into one serious save in the 90 minutes.
Mana credited al-Wahda with greater composure than his team although Hekari failed to profit from the nerves that affected the home side for the opening half hour.
Al-Wahda were fearful of emulating al-Ahli, who lost last year’s opening match to New Zealand’s Auckland City and were criticized by organizers for the failure. The only well-attended matches last year after that were the two played by winners Barcelona.
The team winning the opener ensure they play twice more, a quarter-final followed by a semi-final or fifth place playoff.
Al-Wahda’s coach Josef Hickersberger said: “Hekari are a good team. Of course, they don’t have the experience like our Brazilian players or UAE internationals, but they are very physical, very fit and they fought to the final whistle.”
That perseverance has helped Hekari reach great heights in a short time, becoming champions four times in a row of the newly-created PNG National Soccer League before winning the Oceania League after two failed attempts.
Club owner John Kapi Natto, who went on a recruiting drive to Fiji and the Solomon Islands, said the club lived by their motto of “No pain, no gain.”
“It is a belief that nothing comes easy in life and if you want to achieve something, you have to accept pain and hard work,” he said.