There are not too many trophies that a Croatian has not got their hands on in world football. There have been countless UEFA Champions Leagues, UEFA Cups, World Club Cups and League titles. Davor Šuker’s name is etched onto the Golden Ball from the 1998 World Cup in France, and Luka Modrić has a number of various awards at home. But it has taken a player of Croatian descent playing all the way down in New Zealand to be the first ever Croatian name on the FIFA World Club Cup Golden Ball award…
On Saturday night in Morocco after the final of the FIFA World Club Cup, Auckland City FC captain Ivan Vicelich (38) took to the stage to be presented with the Bronze ball after being named the third best player at the tournament, a tournament in which the tiny semi-professional club from New Zealand turned heads around the football world.
Vicelich, who is New Zealand’s most-capped international in history and has now played in 4 FIFA Club World Cups, joins an illustrious list of names to have won the trophy. The former Roda JC star, who was the third best player at the tournament behind Cristiano Ronaldo (silver) and Sergio Ramos (gold), says what his side achieved at the tournament will be hard to beat.
“We’re thrilled to clinch third place at the Club World Cup. It’s a very special moment for a New Zealand club. We managed to recover from playing for 120 minutes in the semi-final, train well, and then give another strong performance. But we’re proud of everything we’ve achieved in the tournament, not just today’s game. We can say that we’ve made history,” said the towering defensive midfielder after what has been an amazing 10 days.
Auckland City, a club with strong Croatian roots in New Zealand, had to get past Moroccan champions Moghreb Tétouan in a play-off for the quarter-finals before they beat the African champions ES Sétif to advance to the semi finals for the first time. The plucky side, which boasted a number of players with day jobs, then took on the South American champions San Lorenzo and were unlucky to go down 2-1 in extra time. They did finish the tournament on a high however and beat the CONCACAF winners Cruz Azul of Mexico to finish third. An amazing achievement for a tiny semi-professional club in a rugby-obsessed nation.