It was a tough night at the office on matchday two of the AFC Champions League for Australia's three representatives, but it wasn't all bad news for our A-League contingent.
Wednesday wasn’t hard to take for Australia but was hard to know how to take
There is probably a German word to sum up how Australian football lovers felt after Yokohama F. Marinos defeated Sydney FC 4-0 on Wednesday. Sydney FC fans apart, there must have been some serious conflicting emotions.
Here was the best team in the A-League by some distance being outclassed in every aspect by the champions of Japan. Technically and tactically, it was a real football lesson. But then it was a lesson delivered by an Australian coach. It is not like Ange Postecoglou arrived in Japan with the Marinos already top of the pile. This is a team and style that he has built and it does not only look good but is bringing results.
It was always going to be a tricky for Sydney but Steve Corica’s men were shellshocked by wave after wave of blue shirted attacks. With the game barely a third over, it was a case of damage limitation.
It should also be a case of inspiration. Australia have a coach who, on current form (and it is very early to say especially as China has not really started) look to be the team to beat.
Invoking the spirit of WSW 2014 almost worked for Perth
Perth Glory’s continental debut ended in a 1-0 loss at FC Tokyo. Coach Tony Popovic invoked the spirit of the 2014 Western Sydney Wanderers team that he led to the title.
That unlikely success, which also came in a first ever Asian campaign, was built on some solid defensive performances. It almost worked for Perth.
For most of the match played in the revamped Tokyo Stadium in front of a crowd that failed to break the eight thousand mark, the new boys looked comfortable.
Tokyo, pipped to the J.League title last season by Yokohama F. Marinos had, as expected, more of the ball. Yet the Gasmen struggled to break down the Perth backline and rarely looked like scoring., there was only one effort on goal in the first half.
It took a moment of real quality from Leandro eight minutes from the end to deprive Glory of the point they had fought so hard to secure.
Still, there was much to encourage Perth for the games ahead. A tough away trip is out of the way and the next game with Ulsan Horangi on March 4 in South Korea should not be too scary.
Melbourne go from winning ugly to losing nicely
Melbourne started last week with an ugly 1-0 win at home to Chiangrai United and had they been able to take three points at FC Seoul then they would have had six from two and a couple of toes in the next stage. It wasn’t to be however as it ended in a 1-0 win for the hosts.
Socceroos fans may remember that Park Chu-young, who had a short and not sweet spell with Arsenal but a much longer and successful time with Monaco, scored against Australia in 2009 when he was at the height of his powers. The striker is still around at the age of 34 and his eighth minute goal was enough to give Seoul the win.
Unlike Perth, Melbourne will look back on some missed opportunities and wonder what might have been. Ola Toivonen scored the only goal last week and was busy early on as Victory looked lively. In the end however, the goal just did not come.
The group is already looking like it will be a three-way tussle. It should go right to the end.
Suwon and Taggart draw blanks
A-League fans have been known to complain about high-handed security but in South Korea, fans had to complete medical questionnaires, have their temperatures taken and wear masks just go get inside to watch Suwon Bluewings take on Vissel Kobe. If that wasn’t enough, Kobe won 1-0 with a 90th minute goal.
Before the game Suwon’s veteran winger Yeom Ki-hun, who helped Jeonbuk Motors to the 2006 title and knows more than most what is needed to succeed in Asia, has backed Adam Taggart to replicate his scoring exploits in the 2019 K.League in the 2020 AFC Champions League.
“Adam is a great player and I think he’s a strong contender to become the leading scorer in the AFC Champions League too,” Yeom told the Asian Football Confederation.
“Because he’s such a talented goalscorer, the other teams’ defences will focus on him, but I believe this could also give us a chance elsewhere. When the defenders go to Taggart, his teammates may get goalscoring opportunities, so he will be a very strong weapon to help us through the group stage.”
It did not work this time. Apart from a long-range effort, the Socceroo striker did not get much in the way of service and was withdrawn just after the hour. There is still time to become the tournament top scorer but Suwon can’t afford too many more nights like this if they are to get out of the group.
No reasons to be downhearted
To see three Australian teams in action in the Champions League is a rare thing indeed and with all three in action in Japan and South Korea, it was always possible that all three would lose.
Still, there is no reason to throw in any towels just yet.
Sydney were defeated by a very good team in very good form, Perth were just a few minutes away from getting a solid result in their first ever game in the tournament and Melbourne gave a decent acquittal of themselves.
With more performances like that, points will come on the road but it is at home where the knockout stage will be won or lost.
The coronavirus and the postponement of the Chinese games means that this is not going to be an ordinary group stage. There will be lots of twists and turns.