Coach John Kosmina cut an upbeat figure when Adelaide United returned to Australia after completing its AFC Champions League group stage that was as impressive as it was astonishing.
Not for the first time, Adelaide returned home after a foreign conquest that made it the toast of Australian football, the club said.
Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over 2008 winner Gamba Osaka left the Reds with four wins, a draw and a loss from six matches and crucially three points clear of second placed Bunyodkor.
Few would have thought such an outcome possible after the Reds’ disappointing A-League season coupled with being pitted in a group consisting of such a high calibre of clubs.
But just as Adelaide did in the 2010 edition of the Asian competition after finishing bottom of the ladder in the previous A-League season, it again earned the right to host a round of 16 match against Nagoya Grampus at Hindmarsh Stadium after winning its group.
It is an achievement Kosmina believes is a testament to the fabric of his players through their commitment to make something of their ACL campaign.
“Winning builds confidence and confidence builds wins, I suppose as well,” Kosmina said.
“Winning is a good habit to develop but is easy to break.
”Losing is a hard habit to break … and the fact that these guys have really knuckled down and worked at getting something out of this and retrieving the season they had says a lot about their character.
“The boys have got a spring in their step. You look at the way we started the game (against Gamba). I think we had the ball for the first minute, they never had a touch, we made a few chances and it was really good.”
As Kosmina reflected on the Reds' progress past the group stage for a third time from four showings, he reiterated the magnitude of what the club has accomplished and tried to put into perspective what is does for the standing of not only the city of Adelaide but football in Australia.
“We’ve knocked off two previous champions to get to where we are at the moment and in terms of Adelaide’s name in Asia, it’s massive,” Kosmina said.
“You talk about Australia in Asia and people talk about Adelaide, they don’t talk about Australia, they talk about Adelaide, so from that perspective it’s fantastic.”
Kosmina said he was toying with returning to a two-pronged strike force against Nagoya.
Adelaide has adopted a defensive 4-1-4-1 formation in the ACL so far but substitute striker van Dijk's sealer in the win over Gamba gave the coach food for thought.
The Reds played much of the last half against Gamba with Sergio van Dijk partnering spearhead Bruce Djite in attack.
"I have even tossed up whether we go back to two strikers again because that aspect of it worked quite well," Kosmina said.
"If Serg came in, it wouldn't be at the expense of Bruce. We would play with two strikers."
While the plaudits are coming from far and wide, Kosmina knows ithat winning the group will count for nothing if the Reds do not get past Nagoya in the knockout Round of 16 on 29 May and make it through to the quarter-finals in September.
Despite a final-day 3-0 win over Central Coast Mariners, Nagoya could only manage second spot in Group G.
“It’s a cautious confidence, we’re quietly confident but Nagoya are a good team,” Kosmina said.
“They demolished Central Coast the other night, although I do think the Mariners were a little bit unlucky, they could have got back into the game but didn’t take their chances and paid a price for that in the end, but it is going to be a tough game.
“I guess the important thing is we got that win the other night which gives us the home advantage.”
AFC Champions League
Central Coast Mariners will have to do what it has failed to do in its ACL campaign to date to reach the quarter-finals - score at least two goals in a match.