Thursday, March 12, 2009

Oh brother Aussie Champions League debutants disappoint

Oh brother, Aussie Champions League debutants disappoint.
The displays in this week's AFC Champions League openers have prompted much speculation about whether Australian clubs can reproduce Adelaide United's 2008 form and progress all the way to the '09 final.

In fairness neither the Central Coast nor Newcastle convinced in their maiden continental outings.

The Mariners served up an uninspiring scoreless draw against Korea's Pohang Steelers while the Jets, who finished stone cold last in the recent A-League season, lost 2-0 to Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan.

A fraught domestic campaign from Newcastle was never likely to provide the ideal preparation for a shot at the higher level and the opening half-hour in Beijing proved as much for Gary van Egmond's much-changed side.

Van Egmond handed debuts to overseas signings Donny de Groot and Fabio Vignaroli in a rearranged attacking system which also included Sasho Petrovski, formally of Sydney and the Central Coast.

But the story of the match was always going to be the unforeseen scenario which pitted two of Newcastle's famous Griffiths brothers against their hometown side - especially with Joel Griffiths only technically on loan at Guoan from the Jets until the end of the year.

Ryan, the youngest, even scored the opener as Beijing controlled matters having only joined the side from Liaoning at the conclusion of the 2008 Super League season. Joel, meanwhile, set up an injury time second for substitute Du Wenhui.

That left Adam, the soon-to-be Gold Coast United defender, as the only Griffiths sibling starting for the Jets, who Van Egmond maintained dominated the second 45 minutes and could take plenty of positives from the opening round defeat.

Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna clearly took heed of the warning served up the night before but his negative tactics against Pohang were called into question as his side generated little in front of goal against the Korean cup holders.

McKinna's line-up, featuring just one new inclusion from the side which bombed out of the finals series last month, looked well short and were comfortably kept scoreless in the Gosford rain.

It was a dismal result for the Mariners considering the Steelers won just once in six Champions League group matches last time around to finish nine points behind table toppers Adelaide.

Indeed, Adelaide began their 2008 campaign with a 2-0 win in Pohang and followed that result up by beating them at home.

Melbourne also won on their ACL debut - against fellow Koreans Chunnam Dragons - and still failed to progress to the knockout stage.

But McKinna still defended his side's defensive tactics following the disjointed stalemate.

He said: "I'd much rather the ball was in the air than take a chance at the back like Newcastle did in the first-half (against Guoan).

"You can't take chaces with the Asian teams because on the break they can kill you. Any time we turned the ball over in midfield they really put us under pressure."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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