Feature

Asia provides some home truths about the A-League

It would be unfair and utterly churlish to lambast the A-League's standard after an inauspicious start to this season's AFC Champions League campaign by Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.

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Andrew Redmayne is beaten by a shot from Dejan Damjanovic Source: Action Plus

Many will see the two results as further proof that the A-League is not nearly as strong as it is cracked up to be.

It is too early to judge the strengths and weaknesses of the competition vis-a-vis Asia yet it must be said that once again dark clouds are gathering on the horizon.

The all-conquering Sky Blues were handed a stern reality check when they were outplayed and outclassed by Suwon Bluewings of the Korea Republic who won 2-0 at Allianz Stadium.

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Beaten grand finalists Victory fared slightly better but could not go past a 3-3 draw against fellow K-League mainstays Ulsan Hyundai at AAMI Park.

It certainly is not the end of the world for the A-League duo and with five matches left they have plenty of time to recover.

However it is worrying to see two teams that are still in pre-season emerge unscathed from their trip down under.

It will get harder for Sydney and Melbourne once their Asian rivals get into their competitive stride.

This is Sydney's fourth attempt at the Champions League.

They failed to survive the first phase in 2007 and 2011 and qualified for the round of 16 in 2016.

They certainly face an arduous task to survive this group stage because it was abundantly clear from the match in Sydney that was watched by a miserable crowd of 6349 that for all their dominance of the domestic competition, Graham Arnold's men will not be allowed to dictate terms in Asia as easily as they do in Australia.

Ball players like Milos Ninkovic and Adrian Mierzejewski, for example, are just about unplayable in the A-League but they were not afforded the time and space to weave the special brand of artistry they are accustomed to producing.

Sydney faced a Suwon team that were stronger, faster and more creative in midfield and the Sky Blues could never get their game going like they do against inferior opposition in Australia.

Rarely have they played as many long balls as they did against Suwon.

It was the only way the Sky Blues could circumvent a technical inferiority in a vital area of the pitch but that did not work either mainly because Suwon's defenders were dominant in the air all night and were always the first to the second ball.

Arnold admitted later that Suwon were "probably" the strongest team Sydney had faced in the last two seasons but he promised his players would "live and learn from the result" that must have jolted the team's confidence. The Sky Blues are not used to losing, let alone at home.
On matchday two next week Sydney are away to Shanghai Shenhua, who earned a 1-1 draw with Kashima Antlers.

Victory are taking part in their sixth Asian campaign. They reached the round of 16 in 2016 after falling at the group stages in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2014.

Victory played their part in an enthralling draw with Ulsan that drew only 5127 fans but will rue a lost opportunity to beat a team that has yet to attain top physical condition.

Three times Victory came back from a goal down and in the end they could have snared victory as the visitors ran out of steam but a draw was a fair reflection of the run of play.

Kevin Muscat praised his players' fighting spirit in a difficult period for the club but the coach knows that you have to win your home games if you are to reach the knockout phase, especially since Victory have never won away in Asia.

It does not get any easier. In their next game they are away to Shanghai SIPG, who beat Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 in Japan with a goal from star striker Elkeson to set an early pace in the group.


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4 min read
Published 15 February 2018 at 11:25am
By Philip Micallef