Hekari plot path to world glory

Normal, Sports

PAPUA New Guinea and O-League champions MRDC Hekari United have United Arab Emirates premier league winners, Al Wahda, in their sights as they look to create history at the FIFA Club World Cup, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, from Dec 8- 18.
Hekari United have already written themselves into the record books by becoming the first Pacific Islands team outside of New Zealand or Australia to qualify for the prestigious event and are now hoping to raise eyebrows further by making it past their opening play-off on Dec 8.
“Papua New Guinea have never qualified for a FIFA event, so we have a lot to learn from this first experience,” co-coach Jerry Allen says.
“We will go to Abu Dhabi to do our absolute best. I see this as a great opportunity for Hekari and Papua New Guinea to make our own impression on the world stage and show what we can do.”
Allen is aware hosts, Al Wahda, will be a tricky proposition though and is eager to hand coach Josef Hickersberger’s side the tag of favourites.
“The standard of football in the UAE is higher than in Oceania and I think the same can be said of Asian football generally,” he says.
“I think the main quality we must look for is concentration. I will emphasise to our players that discipline, patience and concentration can make all the difference.”
That concentration was perhaps lacking in Hekari’s opening match of the 2010-11 O-League campaign.
The champions were expected to take all three points against Vanuatu newcomers Amical FC but fell to a surprise 2-1 loss.
Allen, who is in joint charge of the side with Tommy Mana, and his men will hope for better on Saturday when they face Solomon Islands side, Koloale FC in their last O-League hit-out before the Club World Cup.
Whatever the result in that game, it seems unlikely that Al Wahda will take their Pacific opponents lightly in Abu Dhabi.
“We have seen in the past how some of the world’s strongest teams have suffered surprise losses to clubs with far less resources,” Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithi, president of the UAE Football Association, says.
“Hekari may be a far less experienced team on the field but what it lacks in this area it makes up for in passion and commitment.
“I think it will be a very physical match as both clubs strive to achieve their goal of reaching the second round.”
Al Wahda are one of the most famous clubs in the UAE and are always considered among the favourites in major domestic competitions.
They have prepared for the Club World Cup with a pre-season tour of Germany, during which they won four of five friendlies, including an impressive 1-0 triumph over Bundesliga club, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
The squad is relatively unchanged from that which won the championship last season, with the only key addition being former Bani Yas and Mali striker Modibo Diara.
The local hero is Ismail Matar while Brazilians Fernando Baiano and Hugo Henrique Asis do Nascimento add a bit of South American flair.
If Hekari can emerge victorious, they will move through to the quarter-finals stage, where they will meet the winners of the AFC Champions League, the final of which is set to be contested between Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma of South Korea and Iran’s Zobahan.
A second win would tee up a semi-finals clash with Italian giants Inter Milan, while a loss will see them playoff for fifth place with the losers of the other quarter-finals, to be fought out between yet-to-be-confirmed CAF winners and Concacaf champions Pachuca from Mexico.
The Papua New Guineans will be keen to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand side, Auckland City, who posted Oceania’s best-ever showing at a FIFA Club World Cup last year with  wins over hosts Al-Ahli and African representatives TP Mazembe helped them to a fifth-place finish.