Ivan Vicelich is aware of the task facing Auckland City but the assistant coach believes the New Zealanders are capable of causing yet another surprise at the Club World Cup.
Auckland and Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima will open the Club World Cup on Thursday, with a quarter-final berth up for grabs in Yokohama as the best clubs from the world’s six confederations descend on Japan.
Oceania representatives Auckland, who have made the most Club World Cup appearances as they prepare to feature for a seventh time, head to Asia on the back of a surprise third-place finish last year.
Auckland defied the odds to reach the semi-finals, which they lost to San Lorenzo after extra time, having beaten Moghreb Tetouan and ES Setif en route to the final four in Morocco.
“We know we can compete at this level against top teams and that helps new players coming in because they notice that quality and then realise they can achieve a high standard as well,” said Vicelich, who was awarded the bronze ball behind Real Madrid pair Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos for his performances at last year’s tournament.
“The ability is there and we realise there is a high expectation from some people but we have to be realistic about the gap we must overcome to be competitive, it’s huge.
“We know we’re underdogs and we know it’s going to take something special to get any kind of result.
“We do have self-belief and we need to grow that self-belief as much as we can but we can’t be over-confident and think we’re better than we are. If we can be competitive we’ve got a chance.
“That’s why football is so good – sometimes you don’t have to be the number one team to win games. The players are aware of the big responsibility that we have to represent not only our club well, but New Zealand and Oceania.”
Sanfrecce secured a second Club World Cup appearance after winning the two-legged J.League final against Gamba Osaka last week.
A 1-1 draw on Saturday was enough to send Sanfrecce to a 4-3 win on aggregate.
“The players have shown great unity and all made sacrifices for the good of the team,” said manager Hajime Moriyasu.
“We were expecting a very tough season and the players have shown real grit and determination.”
Sanfrecce’s only other appearance at the event saw the club reach the quarter-finals after edging Auckland 1-0 in a play-off.