Adelaide's double-edged sword
For Adelaide it's a case of win against Persipura or start counting your losses.
The recent decision of the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) to reinstate Indonesian team, Persipura Jayisura, into the 2012 Asian Champions League (ACL), has turned what at first looked like being a welcome piece of opportunism for the Reds into a potentially costly ‘winner takes all- match.
Readers may recall that excitement at Hindmarsh began to build when the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) increased Australia-s ACL quote from 2 to 2.5 teams.
This meant Adelaide would be required to play-off against another ‘half spot- team, with the winner going through to the group stages of the ACL, and the loser obligated to accept a spot in the lesser AFC Cup (the Asian equivalent of the Europa League).
As a brief aside to highlight the irrelevance of the widely derided and financially draining AFC Cup, do you know who won the 2012 AFC Cup?
Didn-t think so. Neither did I until checked and discovered that little known Uzbek team, Nasaf Qarshi, had defeated Al-Kuwait from, you guessed it, Kuwait, 2-1 in the final. Gutted I missed that one.
Adelaide thought all their Christmases had come at once when the Chinese decided to withdraw their team from their half spot allocation, and the Indonesian team was disqualified due to its participation in a league that was not sanctioned by the AFC.
The result? The Reds would be automatically promoted to the AFC group stage without having to play a game - happy days.
They were drawn against familiar opponents, Gamba Osaka (their conquerors in the 2008 ACL final, Bunyodkur and Pohang Steelers (expected to prevail in their forthcoming play-off against Thai team, Chonburi).
Bubbling along in the background was a legal challenge mounted by the disgruntled Indonesians, who were embroiled in a dispute with the Indonesia Soccer Association (PSSI), regarding their participation in a rebel league.
On February 1, much to the surprise of many observers including FIFA and the AFC, a ruling was handed down by CAS in Switzerland reinstating Persipura Jayisura to the ACL.
Effectively, this means that Adelaide now have to play Persipura in a one-off match at Hindmarsh on February 16.
For the winner, the ACL group stages await. For the loser, it seems that at least the AFC have softened the blow by not forcing upon them the disheartening prospect of taking on teams from the likes of India, Lebanon, Syria Malaysia, Burma, Hong Kong and Singapore in the AFC Cup.
For the Reds, arguably more is at stake for them than their Indonesian opponents.
Adelaide have had to host the play-off at a cost of $100,000, as AFC rules require visiting teams and match officials to be hosted and funded in addition to the normal costs involved in opening a stadium, such as security, match day staff, etc.
There remains the possibility that FIFA could have the CAS decision overturned, which would be somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory, as the cost of hosting the play-off would probably negate any prize money the Reds would win from their participation in the ACL group games.
Adelaide has been given permission from the AFC to change the two members of their squad into the provisional list for the upcoming match on Thursday. If Adelaide progress as hoped to the ACL group stage then they will have up until 5 days before their opening game (March 6 match) to replace up to five players in their 30-player-list submitted to AFC (as permitted in the ACL regs).
This would seem to allow Adelaide the ability to replace Francisco Usucar, provisionally named in their ACL squad as one of their three permitted non-Asian foreigners, with Evgeny Levchenko.
The latter being the interesting case.
Originally the lanky Ukrainian was omitted from the squad as Usucar, Sergio Van Dijk and Cassio were preferred but the Reds- current shortage of central defensive options will probably seem him gain a reprieve at the expense of the industrious Uruguayan, though the door remains open for Usucar to be recalled in the future.
With Levchenko-s contract expiring at the end of May and Usucar contracted for next season, this would seem the most likely course of events.
FFA has been across this process from the outset and has been fully supportive of Adelaide in their dealings - this has included administrative and legal assistance and advice, they deserve to be commended.
Ultimately though the current situation once again highlights, if any further illumination was necessary, the bureaucratic mess that trying to run the worlds most global sport can turn into.
This should have been dealt with months ago by the powers that be at governing body level, rather than forcing the Reds into a situation where they stand to lose $100,000 if they lose against Persipura.
The other negative effect on Adelaide is that they will have had to play three matches in eight days at a time when they are scrambling to sneak into the A-League top six.
If they can pull ACL qualification out of the fire, it would salvage something from what has otherwise been a pretty poor season.