Auckland City, a football club with strong Croatian roots in New Zealand, start their 9th FIFA Club World Cup campaign tonight in the United Arab Emirates.
Auckland City FC kicks off the tournament tonight against Al Jazira, the 2016–17 UAE Pro-League league winners in the opening playoff round of the competition.
Auckland City will be joined at the tournament, which will run from 6 – 16 December, by the champion clubs from each of the six continental confederations, including Gremio from South America and Real Madrid from Europe.
Auckland City, who have dominated domestic football in New Zealand for the last decade, will be hoping for a repeat of their 2014 performance, which saw them incredibly finish 3rd in Morocco.
The club has a very strong Croatian connection.
Auckland City was formed in 2004 out of Central United when a new national league system was created in New Zealand. Central United, whose emblem features the Croatian red and white checks, was formed by a group of Croatian migrants, mainly from Dalmatia, over 50 years ago and has maintained a strong connection.
Today Auckland City’s President, Ivan Vuksich, and assistant coach, Ivan Vicelich, both claim Croatian heritage.
The squad also features former Zadar and Slaven Belupo defender Mario Bilen.
“(Those migrants) had come to New Zealand and just wanted to somewhere to play,” Vuksich says, explaining how Central United was formed. “Over the years that Croatian influence really dwindled off and probably now just five percent of its members are probably Croatian. Now we would be one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse clubs in the country.”
Meanwhile, Vicelich, who is New Zealand’s most-capped international in history, is attending his 7th FIFA Club World Cup. In 2014 in Morocco Vicelich picked up the Bronze Ball.