Embracing ACL has boosted A-League
Irrespective of the final standings in the three groups featuring A-League clubs, this has been a breakthrough ACL campaign for Australia.
Kevin Muscat-s view of the ACL was brilliant and refreshing. Rather than whinge about bottleneck scheduling and arduous travel straddling his Hyundai A-League and group stage AFC Asian Champions League commitments, the Melbourne Victory coach said balancing the two was a challenge he wanted his club to relish.
“It's exciting; playing in it [the AFC Champions League]. It makes life so much harder playing these games, because you're playing against very good opposition. More times than most you're having to travel. But it's exciting. I think we should embrace it.”
Bravo Musky. And his view is emblematic of all participating A-League clubs in 2014 who-ve grasped the competition-s importance, learnt from it and as a result portrayed a positive image of our league across the continent.
And as a result, one team (Wanderers) went through with Victory and Mariners going agonisingly close to group qualification. We should be proud of them all.
“Putting yourself up against different opposition, you learn different lessons,” added Muscat. “Albeit it's difficult on the body and mind, the players are getting great experience from that and great lessons. I'm looking forward to it.”
Let-s not forget, the hours of travel for our Champions League is significantly more than in the European version of this event. And given squad numbers and salary caps, Australian sides have stepped up magnificently.
For me, Victory-s win in Melbourne over reigning ACL champions, the fabulously wealthy Guangzhou Evergrande, was a very special highlight. A 2-0 win for the home side, a pulsating 90 minutes and a noisy crowd. I-ll remember that for a long time.
It rivalled Sydney FC-s 2-2 with Urawa Red Diamonds in 2007 - a game that really put the ACL on the map in this country and offered an insight into fan culture in Asia.
But there was so much more in 2014. Victory also defeated Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 in Melbourne, while the Wanderers- campaign was a master-classes in squad rotation by the increasingly impressive Tony Popovic.
A 5-0 thrashing of a shambolic Guizhou Renhe at Wanderland stole the headlines but that 1-0 win over Kawasaki at home was the most significant result in my opinion - the red and black was worthy of its group stage success.
Add the Mariners- home wins over Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Beijing Guoan and Aussie teams really did show how far the league has come.
As for the players, you ask anyone of them and they-ll say they prefer games to training any old day - even if the round-travel that would scare most European clubs. We want more games don-t we?
Irrespective of the final standings in the three groups featuring A-League clubs, this has been a breakthrough ACL campaign for Australia. And the key has been the leaders of our clubs - the coaches - embracing Asia-s showpiece tournament and proving they learn quickly from early losses in the respective groups.
For the record one A-League club - Western Sydney- made it to the knockout round. But it could-ve easily have been all three.
Apart from Adelaide-srun to the final in 2008 against Gamba Osaka, the last few years have seen a drop off in in interest in the ACL in this country. Results and promotion of the tournament haven-t been good.
But the ACL is back after the 2014 group stage. And planning has already begun for an A-League assault on the 2015 group stages of Asia-s showpiece club competition.
Meanwhile, I-m sure we-ll all be supporting the Wanderers as their Asian adventure continues.