Reds fly the flag in Asia

In the space of 90 minutes Adelaide United will have generated as many headlines around the region as Alessandro Del Piero.

In the space of 90 minutes Adelaide United will have generated as many headlines around the region as Alessandro Del Piero.

They will have been written about in Uzbek, Arabic, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and any of the other multitudes of languages spoken throughout the Asian Football Confederation.

They-ll have been heavily scrutinised in Tashkent - a city which has changed hands more often than Cassio changes his boots and which was once sacked by none other than Genghis Khan - and will have attracted the attention of supporters in Riyadh and Ulsan.

All this for drawing 2-2 with Bunyodkor in the first leg of a pulsating AFC Champions League quarter-final clash at Hindmarsh Stadium.

The Champions League is a bigger deal than most Australians give it credit for.

That-s not to say it has reached anywhere near its potential.

It-s simply an acknowledgement that the continental competition has the potential to reach millions of people.

It-s a good thing it does given that the Reds and Bunyodkor served up a stellar advertisement for Asian football.

For almost the entire first half Adelaide simply pulverised their Uzbek opponents.

They should have been three goals up when Bruce Djite headed against the crossbar barely half an hour in, after Iain Ramsay and Evan Kostopolous registered deserved early goals for the home side.

And then, as is so often the case, a quick counter-attack changed the complexion of the match.

Reds defender Nigel Boogard lost out in a foot race to Murzoev Kamoliddin in the chase for a long ball and after clipping Kamoliddin-s heels, last man Boogard was promptly dismissed.

Then up stepped Anvar Gafurov to curl home a free-kick so technically flawless that had it been scored in the UEFA Champions League, we-d be talking about it for days to come.

There-s no reason we shouldn-t be talking about Gafurov-s goal for just as long.

The big difference between his free-kick and any scored by Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi is that Gafurov scored his goal in front of Australian fans in a competition that directly affects Australian clubs.

More than 10,000 of those fans turned out in Adelaide - more than double the crowd which showed up to watch Dinamo Zagreb do battle with Porto in the UEFA Champions League the same day.

Should United advance to the semi-finals against either Saudi giant Al-Hilal or South Korean outfit Ulsan Hyundai, expect a packed house to cram into Hindmarsh Stadium for the home leg.

The Reds might face an uphill battle after conceding two unnecessary goals in the first leg against Bunyodkor but their performance suggests they have the measure of the Uzbek side.

And should United go close to repeating their 2008 Champions League heroics, they-ll have raised their profile in Asia by another notch.

I was present at all three of Adelaide-s games in the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan and practically every Japanese fan I met wanted to talk about the Reds.

Sydney FC might have Alessandro Del Piero but when it comes to recognition in Asia, most fans know Adelaide United.

And if Australians want the Champions League to grow in prestige, we need to do our part.

That-s why Adelaide-s run to the knock-out stages is another important step and there-s no reason the Reds should abandon the self-belief which has already taken them so far.

They may need to get a result in Tashkent but they-re clearly good enough to do so and what-s more, they-ll be starting with 11 versus 11.

The wave of optimism sweeping through Australian football has renewed interest in the A-League and reminded fans that Australia has a role to play on the international stage.

And Adelaide United are doing more than most to play it, as they proudly wave the flag for Australia in another gripping Champions League campaign.