Oceania football champions Auckland City played their last away game in front of 34,000 fans at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco.
Their next match will be in front of about 1,000 spectators in Cambridge this weekend when the Aucklanders come to John Kerkhof Park in Vogel St for their ASB Premiership fixture with WaiBOP United.
And while the crowd might be smaller than for Auckland’s cup tie against Raja Casablanca, organisers of Saturday’s match are expecting a big match atmosphere for the visit of the star-studded Auckland team.
WaiBOP United head coach, Peter Smith, is fully aware of the challenge presented by Auckland City. “Auckland City have set the standard in the ASB Premiership for the last decade, both on and off the field,” he said. “While I know we’ll have our work cut out for us on the field this weekend, we’ll be doing our best to show that we plan on being more than just competitive in this league.”
Cambridge FC are hosting five of WaiBOP United’s ASB Premiership games this summer, with John Kerkhof Park becoming one of six main centres being used to host national league football.
“WaiBOP United are the newest team in the league but have already shown they can compete against the best teams in the league, so we’re looking for the locals to get behind them and help the players get a result,” Cambridge Football Club’s Josh Easby said.
The club and its band of volunteers have risen to the challenge, erecting a mini-stadium for games with temporary grandstands, a public hospitality area and pitch side marquees.
This Saturday’s match, which kicks off at 5pm, will involve some of New Zealand’s best known footballers, on and off the pitch.
Auckland City will be captained by 37-year-old Ivan Vicelich who has played 88 full internationals for the All Whites – more than any other player in the sport’s history.
Before the match, Cambridge FC will host a luncheon attended by special guest, All Whites manager Brian Turner. He’s a veteran of three World Cup campaigns as a player (including the 1982 finals in Spain), and two as an assistant coach/manager (including the 2010 finals in South Africa).
“This is an opportunity for local football fans to make an afternoon of it,” says WaiBOP United Communications Manager, Dwayne Barlow. “I can guarantee Brian will be worth listening to and the football later on will also be of a high standard.”
Turner played 59 full internationals for New Zealand. Tickets for the luncheon are still available.
Both Turner and Vicelich are former New Zealand Players of the Year award winners.
The WaiBOP United side – which represents all 115 clubs in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty Football Federation – is skippered by All White Aaron Scott.
WaiBOP United have already played two matches in Cambridge, losing 2-0 to Hawkes Bay United and beating Southern United 4-2.
The next three games at Cambridge are against Auckland City on Saturday, followed by national champions Waitakere United (February 15) and Team Wellington (February 22).