ABU DHABI // The Pro League champions Al Ahli were dumped out of the Club World Cup by Oceania kings Auckland City last night by goals from Adam Dickinson and an unstoppable 25-yarder from Chad Coombes, leaving 14,856 fans - barring a handful of joyful New Zealanders - to traipse out of the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium wondering "what if". Missing first-choice forwards Ismael al Hammadi and the Khalil brothers Ahmed and Faisal, the Dubai club appeared over-burdened by the weight of expectation which filled the ground. Not even the pre-match news that Brazilian striker Bare and Egyptian playmaker Hosny Abd Rabo had been declared fit served to galvanise the hosts, as they went down 2-0.
Ahli had started the game well. Ali Abbas had the first shot of tournament, but the holding midfielder's scuffed effort, however, sailed well over Auckland goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley's crossbar. With veteran Auckland centre-half Ivan Vicelich cutting an imposing figure in keeping Bare at bay, Al Ahli's gangly Abbas was impressive in the middle. He broke up numerous Auckland attacks and got forward well. But his teammates' inability to find a telling final ball left him, and Bare in particular, frustrated. Meanwhile Vicelich, the Brazilian's shepherd, remained relatively untroubled.
Auckland had their first chance with less than quarter of an hour gone. Bader Yaqoot up-ended Matt Williams 25 yards out, and with a chorus of boos greeting Coombes's run up, the midfielder's tame effort cannoned harmlessly off the Ahli wall. The English striker Dickinson, who used to ply his trade in the reserve team of Tranmere Rovers who compete in the lower rungs of England's Football League, then offered a glimpse of the things to come, finding acres of space in the Ahli box. But keeper Yousef Abdalla got down well and blocked the 23-year-old forward's shot with his legs.
Ahli, their coach Mahdi Ali barking orders from the touchline, heeded the warning and responded well. Abbas headed a corner over the bar before Hassan Ali chested down a long punt forward, turned on to his right foot and fired in a blistering half-volley. As Spoonley scrambled left, the ball sizzled just wide of the right-hand upright. Proceedings were beginning to bubble. Then winger Jason Hayne - the beneficiary of Auckland's decision to switch from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 just before kick-off - fired wide from the edge of the box. Bare wanted in on the action and got his first sight of goal, firing a left-footed effort agonisingly over.
The Auckland enforcer Adam McGeorge was then booked for a needless lunge, bringing Ahli a free-kick 35 yards out. Hosny back-heeled to Yousef Jaber, but the defender's shot flashed well wide. It was as close Ahli would come before Auckland got off the mark. The impressive Hayne broke down the right and fizzed in a perfect cross which Dickinson, arriving at the back-post, shinned into the roof of the net. The Ahli heads - to a man - visibly fell, and Coombes was booked as Auckland celebrated. He would forget his yellow card in due course.
But just seconds later, on the stroke of half-time, Ahli were handed a reprieve. Bare beat two men and forced Spoonley into a flying save. However, with the keeper stranded, captain Salem Khamis wastefully fired over an open goal. Coach Ali altered his formation at half-time, bringing on forward Mohammed Rashid for the booked Ali Hussein. Iranian midfielder Mehrzad Madanchi entered next as Ahli desperately tried to mix things up.
But it was the energetic Dickinson and Hayne, a livewire on the right wing, who continued to inflict the damage. Until Coombes had his say. The 26-year old, who played in Auckland's last - and winless - Club World Cup appearance in 2006, picked up the ball 25 yards out and unleashed an unstoppable shot with his left foot into the top-right corner. Coombes, who would normally have played up front, was filling in at right-back after James Pritchett pulled a hamstring in training on Tuesday night.
Auckland were on the road to victory now and, able to sit back and play on the counter, the relentless Ahli forwards poured towards goal. Madanchi fired wide late on, but ultimately, the brightest thing Ahli had to show for their endeavour, were the striking yellow boots of right-back Khalid Mohammed. Spoonley remained largely untested, as Ahli's opening - and only - Club World Cup match ended in embarrassing defeat to the Kiwi amateurs.
The reward for Auckland, a clash with Mexican side Atlante on Saturday, with the Spanish giants Barcelona awaiting the winners. firstname.lastname@example.org