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
    Mike Tuckerman

    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 has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 4:59am
      SAMURAI said | March 22nd 2012 @ 4:59am | ! Report

      Excellent article, one of the few people here who know the full story when it comes to understanding Asian football. It’s true that clashes against K-League sides will be the true tests, they tend to place ACL ahead of their domestic championship.

      Anyway, good week for the A-League clubs, at this stage I reckon CCM and Adelaide have the best chances of progressing.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 7:26am
      Rcamp33 said | March 22nd 2012 @ 7:26am | ! Report

      Not get too excited about the gamba win because there a team in transition – so what would you call Adelaides season?

      Makes Adelaide’s run of results even more impressive.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 7:28am
      TomC said | March 22nd 2012 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      ‘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.’

      What are you referring to here, Mike? I haven’t seen anything to make me think Australian football has this kind of obsession. Have there been any articles recently that lead you to this conclusion?

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 8:54am
        nordster said | March 22nd 2012 @ 8:54am | ! Report

        yeah seemed to be overstating a little there Mike … its not quite an obsession yet, we’re mostly too realistic for that just now

        had a great night at Mariners-Nagoya last night btw, “cosy” crowd lol but great atmosphere and game, the away contingent now thats something worth aiming for passion and noise wise

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 12:41pm
        Walt said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

        Well, bettering our Asian rivals is the whole idea isnt it?

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 12:56pm
        JimmyMac said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

        In any case, I fail to see what’s wrong with “constant navel-gazing and blind obsession with bettering our East Asian rivals”.

        Is there anything wrong with a blind obsession with beating the Poms at cricket, for example?

        The growing rivally with our East Asian counterparts, at club level and internationl, is one of the best things about being in Asia.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 8:26am
      jamesb said | March 22nd 2012 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Isn’t the playing squad of Nagoya worth over $50 million, while the CC Mariners, their playing squad value is only 2.4 or 2.5 million.

      It does put a perspective that our A-League teams are punching above their weight.

    • Roar Guru

      March 22nd 2012 @ 9:20am
      Fussball ist unser leben said | March 22nd 2012 @ 9:20am | ! Report

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

      No chance of that, Mike – you’re always on hand to dampen any exuberance HAL fans may demonstrate about any aspect of our league.

      What makes you think HAL clubs take the ACL any more seriously than J-League clubs?

      The overwhelming majority of MVFC fans do not take the ACL seriously & most MVFC members don’t bother turning up to watch ACL games. (For the record, I think it’s a huge honour & privilege for MVFC to play ACL football.)

      By contrast – from afar – it appears that J-League, K-League & CSL fans take the ACL much more seriously than HAL fans.

      But for most MVFC fans, the constant cheating by some Asian teams makes the matches frustrating to watch. In general, J-League teams in the past have not resorted to cheating & diving but, perhaps it’s evidence of declining standards in the J-League that last night Nagoya Grampus were constantly diving & cheating. It was good to see Aussie, Josh Kennedy, did not join his Japanese team mates in these cynical acts of cheating.

      I’ve attended every MVFC match played at home in the ACL & 90% of MVFC matches played in the HAL and I can also make the claim that – apart from our 1st attempt – MVFC has never taken the ACL seriously.

      Ernie Merrick often fielded 2nd team players in the ACL and made it clear in interviews that the HAL was his priority. E.g. when MVFC was beaten easily by Kawasaki Frontale 2 yrs ago – playing the match in Japan 48 hours after playing in the HAL GF in Melbourne – Merrick didn’t use Langerak, who was the best GK playing in Australia, or his captain.

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 9:55am
        Roger said | March 22nd 2012 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        Fuss, I for one, do take the ACL seriously. It is an important competition, and crucial for the growth, development, and exposure of the A-League.

        I also know that many of my fellow fans also take the ACL seriously.

        But maybe the group I go to matches with aren’t representative of the average MVFC fan?

        • Roar Guru

          March 22nd 2012 @ 10:03am
          Fussball ist unser leben said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          I’m with you, Roger – I enjoy watching ACL and have attended all 9 MVFC home games. Our 1st home game against Jeju Utd last year attracted a crowd of just 4825 out of 19k MVFC members! Crowds did increase to 7.4k for the final home game against Gamba Osaka, but it’s still evidence of a lack of interest from the overwhelming majority of MVFC fans.

          I guess it didn’t help that Ernie Merrick didn’t take the competition seriously.

          • March 22nd 2012 @ 10:19am
            Roger said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:19am | ! Report

            Yes, you’re right, it didn’t help that Ernie didn’t take it seriously.

            In relation to crowd numbers, although I watch all MVFC ACL games, I do not often attend the match, especially when it’s on a week night. Why? I simply can’t get to all the games due to other commitments.

            But that doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously, and it also doesn’t mean I don’t watch the games on TV 😉

        • March 22nd 2012 @ 10:12am
          Qantas supports Australian Football said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:12am | ! Report

          I’m sure that big Jim Magilton—if appointed as Melb Vic manager will want success in Asia. This will be one of his goals—if not the main goal to win the ACL. Jim of all manager’s would know what it would mean to be club Champions of your Confederation.. If Muscat doesn’t.

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 10:13am
        SAMURAI said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        “What makes you think HAL clubs take the ACL any more seriously than J-League clubs?”

        Maybe since ACL makes headline news in Australian football and matches are broadcast live here? But in Japan, matches are usually delayed broadcast and barely make the national sporting news?

        “By contrast – from afar – it appears that J-League, K-League & CSL fans take the ACL much more seriously than HAL fans.”

        Of course! Judging by the huge crowds they get in Korea and Japan!

        “It was good to see Aussie, Josh Kennedy, did not join his Japanese team mates in these cynical acts of cheating.”

        It was good to see that last night, but again you’ve only watched Kennedy at Nagoya during the few ACL matches. Not during the 34 regular season games in Japan 😉

        “Ernie Merrick often fielded 2nd team players in the ACL and made it clear in interviews that the HAL was his priority”

        But Pixy bluntly told the national media ACL was always 2nd priority. Heck, last season the president at Kashima Antlers publicly admitted after the Cup final he was partly unhappy victory came the price of ACL qualification.

        • March 22nd 2012 @ 11:41am
          Roarchild said | March 22nd 2012 @ 11:41am | ! Report

          It’s only China that gets more fans to ACL games than regular season games.

          That seems a measurable fact, J, A and K league fans have all voted with their bums that they prefer their own domestic leagues.

      • Roar Guru

        March 22nd 2012 @ 12:11pm
        dinoweb said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

        I think 12,000 Brisbane Roar fans who braved a fair amount of rain, for a mid-week clash with Tokyo are taking the ACL fairly seriously.

        The fact that Ange also rested a couple of key players from a crucial HAL match ahead of the Roar ACL clash with Beijing also shows a certain amount seriousness.

        Since the first A-League teams competed in the ACL, I have certainly watched on with a certain amount of envy, and am loving the fact that Brisbane is in the mix this year.

        I couldn’t care less how serious other clubs or countries take the competition. If we take the competition seriously, others will follow. I’d certainly love to see an ACL trophy in the Roar cabinet, or the cabinet of any Aussie team for that matter.

        I also can’t help but think MV’s poor showing has something to do with the fans perception of the competition. I’m pretty certain that with a bit of success, they’d be crowing fairly loudly about it. I’m not putting down Melbourne’s past achievements domestically, but the ACL has consistenlty shown up the short falls of the MV team. MV has singularly failed to grow and adapt to the challenges of being good enough for the ACL, while teams like Roar and CCM obviusly have stepped up a level, and rightly see the ACL as a true tesing ground both for themsleves individually, and the HAL as a whole.

        It’s still early days, but I don’t really care if the teams progress through or not (well maybe I do care just a little). The Oz teams this year are performing creditably. It shows a definite improvement in the standard of the HAL, and regardless of the results, I for one am loving it.

        • Roar Guru

          March 22nd 2012 @ 1:28pm
          Fussball ist unser leben said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          12k for Brisbane’s opening ACL game is pretty good, but MVFC’s first ACL campaign drew huge crowds and great results.

          Support for the competition waned in our 2nd & 3rd ACL campaigns. Let’s see how Brisbane fans & team handle the remaining home matches; and, then, we’ll have to wait several years to see how Brisbane fans & team handles 3 ACL campaigns.

          Here are the crowds for MVFC’s first ACL campaign in 2008 – all games in the ACL are mid-week:
          1. MVFC 2-0 Chunnnam Dragons: 23,656

          2. MVFC 3-4 Gamba Osaka: 23,857
          * Gamba scored the winner in the 90′ after MVFC led 1-0, went behind 1-2 then took the lead again 3-2

          3. MVFC 3-1 Chonburi: 9,558
          * for a dead rubber

          MVFC finished 2nd in the Group behind Gamba Osaka, who went on to win be Asian Champions that year.

          Let’s see how Brisbane’s first ACL campaign progresses – so far, Brisbane has been spectacularly unsuccessful and, on current form, will finish 3rd in the Group.

          • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:43pm
            Nathan of Perth said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            All great crowds for mid-week matches.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 9:37am
      Midfielder said | March 22nd 2012 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      In my humble that is the best we have ever played aside from up front…

      Respect nay huge respect for GA … the formation he played tonight and the way he drilled the shape into them was the like I have not seen before … held for the entire match…

      My observations … from corners he zoned defended like all players aside from Musty and Olly inside the six yard box… Only Kennedy seemed to be playing in a forward role so he left Wilko and Douchie to watch him and pushed Rose and Pedj into wide midfield roles pushing weeMac & Olly more into the centre of the park and denied them space to work with… we they did get some space they looked quite skillfull…

      The ref … worse than Breeze when Kossie Killers kicked us to death …

      Now for Musty … OMG …. he played a game tonight that should have him in the Australian side … without Hutch & Dutchie and he could not have played how he did however words fail me the way he closed down the play, distributed the ball, ran at pace, touch under pressure unbelievably… hunger and determination I have not seen him show before as well…

      My ratings of players….

      Ryan 8. Top game. Totally alert and distribution first class.
      Bojic 6. Headless chook but still worked hard.
      Rose 7. Good game and one superb bit of defending kept us in the game.
      Wilko 7.5 Top game from a man in fine form.
      Dutchy 8.5 Simply brilliant.
      WeeMac 7. Not in top gear tonight but still decent.
      Hutcho 7.5. Pretty good game…when he plays like that we don’t miss Griffo.
      Amini 9.5. First half, slightly off the boil but second half he was amazingly good. Japs struggled to control him.
      Bozanic 8. Great game. Made a couple of mistakes late on but was superb overall.
      Rogic 7. Decent game, second half was much better than the first
      Hearfield 5. Worked hard, but well out of his depth.

      Subs ….all did ok.

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