Proud Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold praised his understrength side for matching the “richest club in the country” and fighting to a season-opening draw on Saturday night.
With the likes of Mark Janko, Bernie Ibini, Ali Abbas and Shane Smeltz missing, the Sky Blues battled hard against Melbourne City’s superstars to secure a 1-1 draw at Allianz Stadium.
A wonderful curling shot by Corey Gameiro put Sydney in front nine minutes into the second half before Spanish super-sub David Villa levelled things up soon after.
While the home fans were disappointed not to start the new season with a win, Arnold admitted he would have signed for a draw before kick-off given the amount of troops he was missing.
“When you’re playing against the richest club in the country and playing against a world class superstar like that,” said the Sky Blues boss when asked if he was happy with a draw.
“Especially with the numbers we were down. John van ‘t Schip is building a good side there. You can see he’s recruited well.
“The difference between Melbourne Heart and City is obviously the cash but the quality they have up front now and when (Robbie) Koren gets back they are going to have a very powerful team.
“The first half I thought we were nervous and a bit tense. That’s what a long off-season does, it gives you time to think about the first game but I thought second half we came into it much better.
“We moved the ball much better and in the end if (Terry) Antonis’ shot doesn’t hit the crossbar we win the game.”
The Sky Blues still could have got all three points if not for the influence of Villa, who produced some brilliance to bring City back into the game.
The Spanish World Cup star hardly got a touch in his first 15 minutes on the pitch but was given one opportunity and made it count.
“I actually thought Seb Ryall did a very good job on him,” Arnold said of Villa.
“He’s in his prime still. It’s such a joy to see him on Allianz Stadium and playing. G
“It was a great finish and a great lesson for all the kids out there watching a superstar play, on the edge of the box you don’t have to smash it, just place it with the outside of the foot and that’s what he did.”
Sydney FC’s focus will immediately turn to next weekend’s derby against a wounded Western Sydney Wanderers FC outfit that were crushed 4-1 by Melbourne Victory on Friday night.
Smeltz (groin) and Janko are both certain to be available for the match, while Ibini and Abbas are expected to return to Australia on Thursday from international duty and will be assessed.