Jets crash a stern warning for Victory, Sydney


Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC were left in no doubt about the enormity of their task to leave their mark on the AFC Champions League after Newcastle Jets' heavy loss in Japan.

Ernie Merrick's men were outplayed, outclassed and outmanoeuvred by slick Kashima Antlers in a final play-off for a spot in the competition proper.

The Antlers won comfortably 4-1 but it was not just the result that hurt the A-League representatives.

It was the ease with which the Japanese outfit swatted the feeble Jets - whose best player was goalkeeper Glen Moss - to once again show the chasm in speed, class and organisation that still exists between the cream of the J.League and that of the A-League.

Kashima's romp was more remarkable because the Japanese team are still in pre-season.

The J.League kicks off this weekend while the Jets have four months of competitive football in their legs.

It was not supposed to end like that, with the home team well on top and the visitors hanging on to limit the damage, even allowing for the chasm in spending power of both sides.

The J.League is probably the strongest domestic championship in Asia but the same can be said of China's Super League and Korea's K League.

Australian clubs have suffered a few batterings in those parts of Asia over the years. This one in Kashima was another.

Kevin Muscat and Steve Corica will come up against more of the same when their respective teams commence their Asian campaign in early March.

Victory are in Group F and will face former Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande of China, Daegu FC of the Korean Republic and Japan's Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Their first match is against Daegu at AAMI Park on Tuesday, March 5.

Sydney will pit their strengths in Group H with Chinese champions Shanghai SIPG, Emperor's Cup winners Kawasaki Frontale and Ulsan Hyundai of the Korea Republic.

Their first game is against Ulsan at Kogarah on Wednesday, March 6.

AFC rules stipulate that Victory and Sydney can select four foreigners each as long as one of them is Asian.

Muscat's squad includes front-third internationals Keisuke Honda, Ola Toivonen and Kosta Barbarouses.

Corica will name his squad early next week. His choice of foreigners is expected to be Milos Ninkovic, Adam Le Fondre, Siem de Jong and Reza Ghoochannejhad.

Both coaches will go into the tournament knowing that they will have their work cut out to reach the knockout phase.

They will rely on the experience and know-how of their old guard to help them steer through the group phase minefield.

Both clubs have always entered the tournament with high hopes on the back of successful domestic seasons but they invariably failed to go very far in the tournament.

They occasionally scored some magnificent victories at home and abroad but they never made it as far as the quarter-finals, for example.

Can they do it this time?

Maybe, maybe not. Asia is not getting any easier, that's for sure.