Escaping ACL group stage is the measure of success

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Adelaide United's Jason Spagnuolo is pushed from the ball by Byungkuk Cho of Seongnam Ilhwa. AAP Image/ Rob Hutchison

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Three ACL games, three excellent results for A-League teams. Adelaide United, the Roar and Mariners all deserve congratulations for their impressive displays. But we should not get too carried away with early group stage results.

I owe an apology to Adelaide fans because I largely wrote off the Reds before the tournament began.

It’s not because I don’t think Adelaide are a capable football team but more because as we’ve seen in the past, some A-League teams struggle in the Champions League coming in on the back of poor domestic campaigns.

But Adelaide got the job done against a poor Gamba Osaka and should have enough momentum behind them to battle their way out of the group stage.

I wouldn’t get too excited about a win over a Gamba side currently in transition, though.

For those unaware, Gamba’s long-term coach Akira Nishino stepped down at the end of last season and the J. League denied former Japan international Wagner Lopes the job as his replacement because Lopes lacks the requisite coaching licence.

That meant Brazilian journeyman Jose Carlos Serrao stepped into the role and his team has looked completely disjointed ever since.

More importantly though, Gamba have for years been hampered by the poor goalkeeping of Yosuke Fujigaya and he turned in a typically inept performance at Hindmarsh Stadium – especially in comparison to the outstanding Eugene Galekovic.

I was just as impressed with the Roar’s performance in Beijing.

I don’t think Guoan are quite the side they were a couple of seasons ago but they had over 40,000 passionate fans cheering them on in the chilly Chinese capital and could well have run away with it after registering a soft opener.

That they failed to do so – and indeed were ultimately fortunate to take a point – says much for the oft-ignored fighting capabilities of Ange Postecoglou’s side.

And Graham Arnold’s Mariners deserve praise for taking a point off Nagoya Grampus in their 1-1 draw last night.

Before the tournament kicked off I thought Nagoya might have a red-hot go at trying to win it, but watching them go through the motions in Gosford suggests Dragon Stojkovic’s side have domestic matters in mind.

Still, it was a strong Nagoya line-up ‘Piksi’ sent out and the Mariners should be proud to have held their own against a Grampus side which employed an inordinate amount of long-ball football on the night.

Having said all that, what worries me sometimes about A-League teams getting results in Asia is the constant navel-gazing and blind obsession with bettering our East Asian rivals.

Beating Gamba Osaka doesn’t make Adelaide United the best team in Asia, just as losing to FC Tokyo doesn’t suddenly make Brisbane Roar the worst team in Australia.

It’s football: teams win some, lose some and either bounce back next week or fall into a terrible slump.

And when teams from certain countries clearly take the Champions League more seriously than others, it’s hard to read much into results until the business end of the tournament.

That said, I’m really looking forward to watching our three representatives take on South Korean opponents.

I think Pohang, Seongnam and Ulsan are all in it to win it this year and all three should provide stern tests for our A-League teams.

I can’t wait to see the likes of Derek Asamoah, Lee Keun-Ho and Yoon Bit-Garam take on Australian opposition and I think our tussle with the K-League representatives will be highlight fixtures of the group stage.

But win, lose or draw I don’t think A-League teams and their fans should read too much into these early results.

The important thing is to get out of the group and progress to the knock-out stage and on that front, Adelaide, Brisbane and Central Coast are well placed to do exactly that.

Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and was a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008 to July 2014.
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