When Sydney FC limped off the field last Wednesday night in Japan, it was utter embarrassment for the best team in Australia.
Shellacked, trounced and hammered, they had been comprehensively outplayed by a Yokohama F Marinos side that looked slick, polished and precise from the opening whistle.
The only positive that the Sky Blues could have taken from the entire evening was the simple fact that the Japanese club had not put another two or three goals past them. Four-nil was bad enough yet six or seven was not beyond the realms of possibility.
It was brilliant football to watch and all masterminded from the sideline by Ange Postecoglou, on a typically chilly early-season evening in the J.League.
It is tough to comprehend the potential physiological and psychological effects that such a drubbing could have on a team that is just not used to losing. After 13 wins from 15 matches, 34 goals and a ten-point lead atop the A-League ladder, Steve Corica took his side on their first away Asian Champions League trip of the season.
What happened was the stuff of nightmares and while all teams have their off days and sometimes fall well behind on the scoreboard, few could have predicted such a thorough whipping, particularly to Sydney.
Post-match, people came from miles to pour salt into Sydney’s wounds. Social media was abuzz with critical commentary around the vast chasm between the standard of play set by the Japanese champions and the vacuous performance produced by the travelling team.
Criticism was not limited to the collective, with individuals cited for being well and truly caught out as Yokohama sliced and diced their way through the wafer-thin Sydney defence. It was clear that many enjoyed seeing the champs go down in such an undignified way.
Sydney FC have swaggered their way into opposition buildings for some time now, been clinical and taken the points with ease. Many fans of the victims of those trips took much glee at the Postecoglou pummelling and chuckled warmly as the so-called privileged and pandered men from the harbour city were finally brought back down to earth.
The thinking appeared to be that with a biased Sydney media backing them, a cosy relationship with the refereeing fraternity and a magic bank balance that continues to bring high-quality signings year after year, fans around the country felt that, for once, Sydney well and truly deserved to be sat on their behinds.
There was an element of surprise in the result, yet perhaps there should not have been. What Postecoglou’s men did to the A-League on Wednesday night was a little embarrassing, however, he has done that before.
After a squad clean-out at the Brisbane Roar when he took the managerial reins in 2009, the 54-year-old proceeded to choreograph what many people still believe to be the most dominant period of play produced by any Australian football team in history.
Amid consecutive championships in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Brisbane enjoyed a superb and unbeaten 36-game streak. It may have been statistically remarkable, yet it was the comprehensive dominance of possession and the surgeon-like precision with which they decapitated teams that had many beaten before they even took to the pitch.
The current A-League standard is no doubt well below that of the highly competitive J.League, however, after watching much of the Round 1 action from Japan across the weekend, it was clear that Yokohama F Marinos are indeed something special.
Perhaps lamenting the state of our domestic game too vigorously is an over-reaction to a Postecoglou performance of which we should all be well aware and not surprised by in the slightest. Roar, Victory and Asian Cup history should teach us that.
Perhaps the performance said more about one of the best coaches in Asia and less about the quality of either competition.
Sydney’s A-League response to the defeat was more controlled and proficient than emphatic, with two late goals sealing the points against the Mariners on Sunday night. As the home side threw all they had the Sky Blues way, their fortress held and there was great mental strength evident after the disappointment just five days earlier.
The win will not remove the memories of the Yokohama hammering but will brush them aside in the short term and allow some confidence to be rebuilt.
However, with three games in nine days on the horizon and an ACL clash with Jeonbuk next Wednesday, Sydney’s acid test has arrived.
It will be a tough road to hoe – a road that will have Melbourne City and Wellington Phoenix feeling very twitchy and hopeful of a late-season Sydney stumble.