A philosophical Graham Arnold lauded the effort of his players following their heartbreaking exit from the AFC Champions League on Wednesday night.
Sydney FC were on track to progress to the quarter finals before a stunning last minute strike from substitute Hao Junmin earned Shandong a 2-2 draw and progression on the away goals rule.
A shattered Arnold admitted the result was difficult to take given how hard his side worked throughout the contest, especially after Zac Anderson’s dismissal with 15 minutes remaining.
“It’s a hard pillow to swallow at the moment,” Arnold told Fox Sports.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the boys. They worked extremely hard, we played very well tonight.
“We went down to 10 men in the last 18 minutes or so, we held on, we were doing well… it takes a bomb of a goal to beat us.”
The Sky Blues twice took the lead through Brandon O’Neill and Rhyan Grant while an inspired performance from Vedran Janjetovic looked like propelling the hosts into the last 8.
The keeper produced several critical stops including a Diego Tardelli penalty in the second half before Junmin produced a long-range thunderbolt in the 90th minute to snatch the win for the visitors.
“That’s football. There’s a lot of disappointments in football and there’s a lot of happy times. This is an extremely disappointing time for the players who worked so hard,” Arnold said.
“The Sydney FC fans probably deserved a little bit better tonight but as I said it took a great goal to beat us and a champion team who are a very good football side.
“We’ve had a long year. Difficult times during this season but again today we showed great character and it was a very good performance.”
Sydney FC players will now take a break and return to pre-season training on July 4.