Australia’s Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory face likely
elimination in the Asian Champions League if they lose this week,
putting pressure on the A-League clubs to avoid another
disappointing campaign on the continent.
After three matches, Sydney has two points and is second from
the bottom in Group H, while Melbourne has a single point and is
last in Group E.
The eight Japanese and Korean teams, meanwhile, are in much
better position heading into this week’s matches.
Only Japan’s Gamba Osaka is struggling, having lost two matches
thus far. The 2008 champion needs a victory at home against Jeju
United of South Korea to improve its chances of getting
Thirty-two teams from all over Asia are split into eight groups
of four, with 16 progressing to the knockout stage. The top two
teams in each group will advance.
Of the two A-League teams, Sydney’s prospects may look brighter,
but its remaining three games are all away from home, starting at
Shanghai Shenhua on Tuesday and then at the Suwon Bluewings of
South Korea and Kashima Antlers of Japan.
Kashima beat Sydney 3-0 last week in Australia.
”It’s definitely not over for us yet,” said Sydney captain
Stuart Musialik. ”We’ve played three games in a row at home and
we’ve only got two points, but we won’t give up the current
Sydney right-back Shannon Cole believes the Australians can get
a good result against Shenhua following their 1-1 draw with the
Chinese side earlier this month at home.
”We had the better of that match, and were unlucky not to win,
but we know we have to put them away this time around,” he said.
”We’re not dead yet, not by any means, but we’ll have to be at our
Melbourne is in a similarly dire situation. The team was
thrashed 5-1 in its opening match at Gamba Osaka, costing coach
Ernie Merrick lost his job, then lost 2-1 at home to Jeju United
under caretaker coach Mehmet Durakovic.
Only a hard-fought draw at Tianjin Teda has kept Melbourne’s
slim hopes alive. The Victory hosts Tianjin on Wednesday.
”We are still bullish on the qualification outlook. We still
have chances,” Durakovic said. ”We’ll go home and prepare for the
home game against these guys on April 20. If we can get a couple of
wins under our belt, it’s open to everybody.”
Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 and
made its first appearance in the Asian Champions League the
following year. Adelaide United made the final of the 2008
tournament, but Aussie teams have struggled since then.
One stumbling block for the teams has been the timing of the
Champions League. The end of the A-League season comes after the
deadline for registration for the Asian tournament. Consequently,
A-League teams that win a title at home have to wait more than a
year to play in the Champions League and many struggle to hold on
to their best players. This is especially tough for A-League clubs
that operate under a strict salary cap of AUS$2.35 million (US$2.48
”The main issue Australian clubs have is the long lead time
between qualification and the tournament proper,” said Craig
Foster, a former Australian player and chief soccer analyst for
Sydney sports network SBS.
”Unfortunately, in the 12-month period between qualifying and
competing, many of the entrants have become significantly weaker,
including the two current representatives.”
Foster said the top teams from the 2010-11 season should be
allowed to play in the Champions League instead.
”Simply put, were Central Coast Mariners and Brisbane Roar to
be representing the A-League, they would be stronger, in better
condition having played to the very end of the finals series,” he
Defender Sasa Ognenovski, who went to the 2008 final with
Adelaide and also captained Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma of South Korea to
the 2010 title, said most A-League clubs also don’t adapt their
games when playing against Asian teams.
”Coaches have gone in to Asian games with pretty similar
tactics as what they play in the A-League and it doesn’t work as
well in Asia,” he said. ”We played a similar style at Adelaide,
but we were more counterattacking. We did a lot of defensive work
and work on our shape and winning the ball.”
”If you try and play one-for-one against the strong Asian
teams, then more often than not you will end up losing. I think it
all comes down to the tactics.”
In other matches this week, J-League champion Nagoya Grampus
plays K-League champion FC Seoul in Korea, and Al Ain of the United
Arab Emirates faces China’s Hangzhou Greentown, with Al Ain needing
a win to keep its hopes of advancing alive.
Sepahan of Iran and Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia both have nine
points from three games and could secure their spots in the second
stage with wins over Al Gharafa of Qatar and Al Wahda of the United
Arab Emirates, respectively.
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