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Auckland City's Bilen in doubt for opener

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 5/12/2016
Mario Bilen © Getty Images Mario Bilen

Influential midfielder Mario Bilen faces a race against time to be fit for Auckland City FC's opening match at the Club World Cup in Japan.

The 32-year-old Croatian twinged his hamstring during a warm-up match on Friday, leaving him in doubt to face Japanese champions Kashima Antlers in Yokohama on Thursday.

A veteran of three Club World Cups with the Oceania champions, Bilen was a key figure when Auckland City FC picked up a bronze medal at the tournament two years ago in Marrakech.

The key ball-winner has trained lightly, giving encouragement to captain Angel Berlanga.

"Mario is a very smart footballer and reads the game well," he said.

"He is always in a good position and he's strong in the air and is the complete player."

The losers of the opening match is eliminated immediately from the tournament, a fate Auckland City FC suffered last year.

The winners will advance to face African champions Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa.

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