With almost 60 per cent possession, more than three times as many efforts on goal as the opposition (on and off target) and ten more corners, logic follows that you should finish the game with victory in hand. But when has football ever been logical?
That is the stark reality facing Auckland City as they end their latest trip to the FIFA Club World Cup, having suffered a narrow and agonising 1-0 defeat to local boys Al Jazira. “At the end of the day, that’s football,” was Cameron Howieson’s frank response after the game in the bowels of the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.
The game swung on a moment of brilliance – Romarinho’s long-range effort just before the break – after the Navy Blues had held a near-monopoly on the attacking intent.
“That’s why they get paid the big bucks, eh?” the 22-year-old summed up. “One chance and they put it away.”
Even after that sucker punch, the champions of Oceania and tournament veterans – making a record ninth appearance – returned from the break on the front foot, with Howieson leading the charge. The attack-minded midfielder forced player of the match Ali Khaseif into a sprawling stop soon after they returned, before teeing up Ryan De Vries for the opportunity of the night.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a few chances but the keeper has pulled off a great save on my effort and the ball just wouldn’t go in the back of the net,” Howieson admitted. “You enjoy playing out there but, when the result doesn’t come your way, it’s very frustrating.”
While still in the early throes of his career, the South Island-native is an experienced hand when it comes to FIFA tournaments. With a U-17 and U-20 World Cup, as well as an Olympics, already under his belt, he has grown a lot since first stepping out at Mexico 2011. And the way he reflects on it shows Howieson is a long way from the 16-year-old who helped guide New Zealand to the last-16.
“Winning the first game is a really great memory to have as a young boy growing up at their first FIFA tournament. Looking back at those memories, you will hopefully be able to tell your kids one day.”
His play has developed, too, finding all sorts of joy as he exploited gaps with maturity.
“There was a lot of space between the lines and it was great to get into the pockets and find a bit of freedom,” he said. “As a player I’m getting more confident and more positive.”
Having played as high as the English second tier, as well as racking up nine caps for the senior national side, Howieson is all too aware that playing on the global stage is a great opportunity.
“This is what we play football for, to come to big competitions like this and put ourselves back on the map. I still want to be playing football at the highest level and competitions like this are going to help.”
So a date with UAE 2018 is high on the priorities, as the long flight home ends their bond with this edition.
“It would be awesome to come back here. I know it means a lot to those back home and it will be our goal to make it for the tenth time. [That legacy] is something the club is really proud of. “
Story courtesy of FIFA