THE ACL experience may have come to an end in Nagoya on Tuesday night, but there is not doubt the Central Coast Mariners have left their mark in Asia.
From China to Korea, and finally the real powerhouse of Asia Japan, we played a brand of football that with a little more luck in front of goal had all the ingredients of being successful in this part of the world’s equivalent to the European Champions League.
Coach Graham Arnold’s experience in Asia through his involvement with the Socceroos proved invaluable and the players equipped themselves very well against teams that have an annual playing budget of between $30-60 million.
It seems a long way off right now but everyone at the Club is eagerly anticipating our next tilt at Asia at the end of next season.
We ended Tuesday’s game with five 19-20-year-olds on the pitch while our experienced players led by example.
Down 2-0 at half-time we came out of the blocks well after the break and had three great chances to score and put pressure on a Nagoya outfit that boasted several senior Japanese internationals.
The scoreline of 3-0 flattered Nagoya if you take into account the fact we virtually gifted them their goals.
When you make a mistake against top quality international opposition you invariably get punished.
At the other end of the pitch you simply have to take your chances.
The result does not in any way take away from what has been an outstanding season by the lads.
We won the Premier’s Plate – the pinnacle in any player and coaches mind – were one penalty off a back-to-back Grand Final appearance against Brisbane and one win away from the last 16 of the Asian Champions League.
We are the smallest Club in Asia by a fair way but continue to punch way above our weight.
It’s a credit to everyone at the Club on and off the field and hopefully we have given our loyal supporters something to cheer about this season.