Waitakere United will this weekend test themselves out against the only professional football team in the country and in doing so go some way to answering the question about just how big is the gap to the Hyundai A-league?
The champions of New Zealand and Oceania play the Wellington Phoenix in the Cuesports Foundation Challenge friendly at Douglas Field on Saturday, albeit a friendly with a genuine competitive edge to it.
Chris Milicich’s side head away to Japan to the World Club Cup in December and are using this match as the first in their build up towards the tournament, one in which they are likely to play Hyundai A-League side Adelaide United on December 11.
Milicich says matches of this quality are hugely important to his players.
“Last year we learned a lesson that we needed to play more matches against quality opposition before arriving in Japan. To go from the NZFC to the World Club Cup was too big a jump. So this year we are playing a couple of matches along the way in Australia and China but start things rolling with this match against Ricki’s Phoenix side.
“In many ways this will replicate what we might face in Japan perfectly, a one-off match against a Hyundai A-League quality team. I will pick my strongest available team and we will approach this as if we were in Japan. This might not be about pretty football but it will be about tactics and coming to terms with a faster pace of game and better quality opposition.”
For some Waitakere players it is an opportunity to show they can still perform to professional standards with the likes of Danny Hay, Neil Emblen and Brazilian import Adriano all having experienced life in the pro game in England and Europe.
For Adriano especially this is the chance to impress. The diminutive Brazilian has joined Waitakere United on a short term deal with a view to impressing scouts at either the Hyundai A-League or J-League, so what better way to start than with a strong showing on Saturday in front of Ricki Herbert and Tony Pignata.
The Phoenix will bring their entire squad north providing a rare and indeed first opportunity for Auckland football fans to see the Phoenix in action live.
Tickets are priced at family friendly prices with adults at just $10 and seniors and children $5 making it affordable for the entire family to come along and see the champions of New Zealand play against the country’s only professional team.
Waitakere United will train three times this week and all sessions are open to media wishing to film and obtain interviews ahead of Saturday’s game.
Waitakere United media opportunities, all sessions same venue, same time.
Waitakere United training sessions
Auckland Grammar School
6pm to 6.30pm for interviews
6.30pm to 8.30pm training
Please note Head Coach Chris Milicich will not be present at the Wednesday session as he is away watching Adelaide play in the return leg of the Asian Champions League final in Adelaide. Should Adelaide lose (they trail 3-0 from the first leg) they will be Waitakere United’s opponent in Japan.