Twelve games played. Seven defeats. Four draws. One win.
That's the record A-League clubs currently hold against their Japanese counterparts in the Asian Champions League, with Australian teams struggling to hold their own against the might of the Japanese game.
The trend continued this week when Central Coast Mariners lost for the second straight time to Kawasaki Frontale, while Newcastle Jets missed a penalty in succumbing to Nagoya Grampus at home.
There were grave doubts about the quality of the A-League when Kawasaki Frontale dished out a humiliating 5-0 thrashing of Central Coast Mariners in Gosford a fortnight ago.
"I hope the players are embarrassed, I am embarrassed," quipped Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna in the wake of that pummelling. "It was the worst moment of my coaching career."
And while the Mariners turned in a vastly improved performance in going down 2-1 in the return fixture in Kawasaki, torrential rain mitigated Frontale's free-flowing passing game.
Newcastle Jets fared better against Nagoya Grampus, although they too were beaten in Australia - going down 1-0 when the two sides squared off in New South Wales last night.
The Jets' star signing Sash Petrovski came off the bench to earn his side a penalty in that game, only to fire the resultant spot-kick straight at Nagoya goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki.
That miss came after Nagoya winger Yoshizumi Ogawa had fired his side into the lead with a well-taken half-volley, and on the balance of play, Grampus deserved all three points from what was a relatively one-sided encounter.
While some Australians point to Adelaide United's win over J. League giants Kashima Antlers last year as proof that it's not all doom and gloom in the Australian game, there's growing awareness that the gap in technical ability between the A-League and the J. League is not going to be bridged any time soon.
The most obvious obstacle to Australian success is the fact that the A-League does not send its current champions to the Champions League, with the Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets both qualifying for this year's Champions League on the back of their success in the 2007-08 A-League campaign.
But while many believe that Melbourne Victory and the battle-hardened Adelaide United would offer a greater threat to Japanese sides, there's no guarentee that even they would come away with better results, after Gamba Osaka hammered both en route to lifting the Champions League title in 2008.
Once considered "the great unknown" in the land Down Under, the Asian Champions League has so far proved both a blessing and a curse to Australian football.
It's an increasingly valued component of the local football landscape, but in brutally exposing the technical gulf between Japanese and Australian sides, the Champions League has also lead some fans to question the true value of the A-League - as Australian clubs scramble to close the gap between themselves and their more established rivals to the north.
Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com
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