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Sydney FC tipped to retain free-scoring attack for Asia

Australian champions Sydney FC make no secret of their bold ambition to leave their mark on Asian football by emulating crosstown rivals Western Sydney Wanderers and becoming continental champions for the first time.

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Bobo, Adrian Mierzejewki and Milos Ninkovic celebrate a Sydney FC goal Source: AAP

Making Sydney the leading club in Australia and a genuine force in Asia is what drove Russian banker David Traktovenko when he moved to own the club a decade ago.

If Graham Arnold's Sky Blues meet the challenge and bring home the AFC Champions League at their fourth attempt, Sydney would become the first city in Asia to provide two separate winners of the biggest prize in continental club football.

Sydney are the finest team to emerge from the A-League since Ange Postecoglou's Brisbane Roar swept all before them in 2011 and 2012.

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They are seen as Australia's best chance to relive the glory days of 2014 when Tony Popovic led his Wanderers rookies to an unexpected 1-0 victory against Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal over two legs.



Sydney are in Group H and will face Suwon Samsung Bluewings of the Korea Republic, Kashima Antlers of Japan and Shanghai Shenhua of China.

Melbourne Victory are Australia's other representatives and will play against Korea's Ulsan Hyundai, Japan's Kawasaki Frontale and China's Shanghai SIPG in Group F.

In the first round of matches Victory are at home to Ulsan on February 13 while Sydney entertain Suwon the day after.

Brisbane did not make it after crashing to a 3-2 defeat to Filipino side Ceros Negros in a one-off playoff that will be mostly remembered for the highly embarrassing jersey fiasco.

There is no doubt that Sydney will have to be at their best to survive a tough and insidious group and on Wednesday Arnold will announce his squad that can contain only three foreigners.

The foreign stars in contention are Dutch defender Jordy Buijs, Brazilian striker Bobo, Serbian midfielder Milos Ninkovic and his Polish counterpart Adrian Mierzejewski.

Who will be the man to miss out? It's a no-brainer, really.

Unless Arnold has other considerations in mind, the two-time A-League championship-winning coach is expected to stick with the three attacking imports who, along with captain Alex Brosque, have set the A-League alight with their exquisite combination of experience, expertise and extravagance.

Keeping Ninkovic, Mierzejewski, Bobo and Brosque together would ensure that the flowing rhythm of the side going forward is kept intact. Their level of understanding is insane.
Breaking up this free-scoring front line might disrupt the whole team's momentum and effectiveness as an attacking unit.

One way to look at Arnold's conundrum is not to recognise what each one of the four brings to the team but what the coach would miss should any one of them is not playing.

With all respect to Buijs, who is one of the pillars of the side, Sydney would be expected to cope without his powerful presence at the back. I'm not sure the same can be said about the other three.

Young Aaron Calver has played Champions League football and would be able to slot in nicely beside World Cup central defender Alex Wilkinson, who is playing so immaculately - almost flawlessly - that many pundits have suggested he could be back in the reckoning for a spot in the Socceroos squad at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in four months.

All eyes in Australia will be on Sydney's campaign to prevail in Asia, the one peak they have yet to conquer in their 13-year existence.

There is no doubt that they are miles ahead of all opposition in Australia, with the exception of second-placed Newcastle Jets, who are having a season to remember.

Many fans are not quite sure about the strengths and weaknesses of the A-League vis-a-vis the rest of Asia.

The coming weeks should give us a clear indication of where we are at.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS IN MODERN ERA

2003: Al Ain (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
2004: Al Ittihad (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
2005: Al Ittihad (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
2006: Jeonbuk Motors (Jeonju, Korea Republic)
2007: Urawa Red Diamonds (Saitama, Japan)
2008: Gamba Osaka (Osaka, Japan)
2009: Pohang Steelers (Pohang, Korea Republic)
2010: Seongnam (Seongnam, Korea Republic)
2011: Al Sadd (Doha, Qatar)
2012: Ulsan Hyundai (Ulsan, Korea Republic)
2013: Guangzhou Evergrande (Guangzhou, China)
2014: Western Sydney Wanderers (Sydney, Australia)
2015: Guangzhou Evergrande (Guangzhou, China)
2016: Jeonbuk Motors (Jeonju, Korea Republic)
2017: Urawa Red Diamonds (Saitama, Japan)


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4 min read
Published 4 February 2018 at 3:16pm
By Philip Micallef