Meet John Irving - The Everton reject making world headlines

COMMENT: The centre-back scored the winning goal as Auckland City saw off Setif to extend their incredible run in Morocco
By Kris Voakes at the Stade Prince Moulay Abdellah

The celebrations went on forever after the final whistle. There was another quarter-final to be played on the pitch after theirs, and the rain continued to pour from the skies. But there was no way Auckland City were leaving the field early. They wanted to soak up every last bit of the occasion.

The part-timers from New Zealand had just beaten Setif 1-0 in the Club World Cup to move into the semi-finals in one of the most unlikely stories football has seen in many a year.

And it was John Irving, one of the men whose job it was to keep out the Algerian strikers, who had delivered the game’s winning moment.

With all the poise of a top class centre-forward, the Englishman took a touch before knocking the ball inside Mohamed Lagraa and sending a fierce effort under the dive of Setif keeper Sofiane Khedairia.

He delivered at the other end too. Alongside centre-back partner Marko Dordevic, he helped keep Setif’s more worldly-wise forwards quiet throughout.

Scoring the winning goal in a Club World Cup quarter-final completes an incredible transformation for a player released by Everton as a 20-year-old, who then played in the Welsh league before giving New Zealand amateur football a go after a call from a friend.

“This is another level,” he told Goal after collecting his Man of the Match award.

“When I got released from Everton, it did kill me. Because I was there from the age of five until I was 20 and it was all I ever dreamed of, so to get that taken away was heartbreaking.

“Then I was playing in Wales for four years, where I loved the club, Bala Town, because they were unbelievable. But I needed another step up to progress when I was 24 or 25, and one of my mates from Everton, Steve Morrison, called me from New Zealand and said I should come and play.”

He can’t for a moment have believed it would lead him to a Club World Cup semi-final, though.

“Steve said there might be an opportunity to get into the A-League, so I played with a team called Ngaruawahia United and after a couple of games Auckland City saw me and asked me to go along.

“I can’t believe how far we’ve got. I’m so proud of everybody, and I think we’ve thoroughly deserved it.”

And they have. The bunch of part-timers from New Zealand are 90 minutes away from potentially meeting Real Madrid in the Club World Cup final. And John Irving is the man they have to thank.

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