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Sky Blue Faith Restored Despite Broken Hearts

Written By Michael Safro (@safrossydney)

Sydney FC’s Asian Champions League campaign that brought a smile to the faces of the club’s long suffering supporters came unstuck in the 90th minute of a tie that had everything.

Everything, that is, except the fairytale ending that would have taken the club into ACL quarter finals – an achievement of which few dared to dream. Instead, it was Shandong Luneng who got to live out a fairytale, substitute Hao Junmin hitting a wonderstrike that was all but unstoppable.

Perhaps only David De Gea could have saved that one.

Perhaps.

Sydney’s display, while far from perfect, was everything their A-League campaign was not. It is safe to say that had the Sky Blues displayed as much quality against Australian opposition in the past six months, their season would have been a successful one.

Unfortunately, it was Iran 1997 all over again, if on a smaller scale and in front of a pitifully small crowd of under 10,000 instead of the 100,000 at the MCG all those years ago. But the home fans were left equally gutted.

Football. Bloody hell.

At the risk of being criticised for suggesting the unthinkable, what cost Sydney at the end was their naivety and a total lack of cynicism. They just don’t have it in their makeup.

A man down and protecting a one goal lead with under ten minutes to play, the Sky Blues were feeling the pinch. Shandong had most of the ball and with fatigue setting in, it was all the home side could do to hold on.

It is at that point that most teams who know how to close out games adopt cynical tactics. A shirt pull or a professional foul to break up the opposition’s momentum. A feigned injury to give their side a chance of a breather and frustrate their opponent. A run to the corner flag to take a few precious seconds off the clock.

It is ugly and some will argue they would rather not win that way. But for every Iniesta there is a Busquets or a Ramos. For every Totti there is a Grosso or a Materazzi.

And they got to lift the World Cup.

If Sydney’s first goal had a touch of fortune about it, their second – less than a minute into the second half – was an absolute peach. Many would have been tempted to think that the rightback’s long-range strike against the Mariners fifteen months ago was the best he’d ever hit a ball again.

Some will have to reassess. Collecting the ball at the edge of the visitors’ penalty area, the fullback hit his shot, missile-like, into the far post and past the despairing dive of Shandong keeper Wang Dalei.

If Grant’s goal was straight out of top drawer, the assist was provided by Sydney’s best player of the night. Milos Ninkovic was sublime, turning his man with ease, spraying incisive passes and keeping his markers guessing throughout the contest. Played a lot higher up the park than he was in the A-League, the fans got to see the best of the Serbian #10 who, Del Piero-like, does his best work at the edge of the opposition box.

O’Neill’s free kick that snuck in off the post was well delivered and the home side were a goal to the good early. Unfortunately, their passing became sloppy upon resumption of play and Shandong took advantage. Drawing out Grant, the visitors had Diego Tardelli running at empty space for the next fifteen minutes. After bringing a good save from Janjetovic on one occasion, the pacy Brazilian freed himself again to cut a cross back to the oncoming Walter Montillo and the gifted Argentine took his finish with some class.

The Uzbek referee and his assistants certainly did Sydney no favours but Matt Simon’s conduct did not help. Displaying the lack of self-control for which he has largely escaped punishment domestically, he was fortunate not to concede a second yellow. And while it was playacting at ten paces from the visiting Chinese whenever Simon was within sight of the ball, an experienced footballer needs to have better reasoning skills out on the pitch.

The match turned on its head with fifteen minutes to go. The penalty and red card were fair enough after Zac Anderson rugby tackled Yang Zu in the box as the latter was shooting for goal. But the replay shows that the Chinese striker was offside at the point that the cross was delivered into the Sydney penalty area. The linesman should have had his flag up, making the rest irrelevant.

Vedran Janjetovic was superb throughout the evening and his penalty save made the fans believe that victory was within sight. But Junmin’s late, late winner broke Sydney hearts.

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A word on the Cove.

Not only did they turn out in force and produce a brilliant tifo but their support on the night was loud, edgy and parochial. And if the atmosphere they created throughout the contest was fantastic, their conduct after the final whistle was even more impressive and the fifteen minute, post-match send-off they gave their heroes had more than one player and fan wiping their eyes.

And so the offseason cull has begun. The next month will be filled with announcements of player comings and goings. More on that another time but one thing is clear - the players who did so well in Asian competition have shown what they are capable of when they get it right.

Most of them remain at the club. If Sydney FC’s domestic campaign gave their fans little to cheer about, their Asian performances have gone a long way towards restoring the faith of the Sky Blue faithful.

With just two or three solid additions to the team sheet, Sydney FC will have what it takes to give the A-League a real shake in 2016/17.

Roll on next season.

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SFCU.com.au Fundraiser & Cove End of Season Party

The Cove End of Season Party will be held at the Bat and Ball Hotel, 495 Cleveland St at 5:00pm on Saturday May 14th.

As always we'll be having a Raffle to raise funds for SFCU hosting costs and we have loads of great prizes this year:

Online Tickets have ended - Purchase Raffle Tickets on the Door!

It costs $150 a month to run SFCU.com.au, so your help would be greatly appreciated.

Lucky door prizes
Captured by Corina has donated some awesome framed photos taken during this season along with a special large framed and signed photo collage of Ali Abbas. 

Prizes:
From The Club 
a/ Complimentary Cove membership for 2016/17 season
b/ Signed 2015/2016 Jersey
c/ Uncatered corporate box for one game in 2016/17 – excl. Wanderers game.

From Marrickvillian
You am I pack: 
Signed Limited edition red vinyl copy of “Porridge & Hotsauce”
“Live Electrified” 3 LP and DVD Live Box Set
Sound As Ever, Hi Fi Way & Hourly Daily on 180 GM vinyl.
3 x 7” singles
A mixed dozen of You Am I Hot Sauce - 6 Chipotle and 6 Verde -handmade in NSW

Ali Abbas donated a jersey 

Zac Anderson Signed boots 

Harbour Snoop
Belvedere Vodka

Southy
3 x Bottles of Captain Morgan Rum

Ash - $100 Woolloomooloo Hotel Bar Tab

Naomi and Simon - Award Winning Tripple Rock Vodka

From APIA and 365 soccer sixes 
2 SEASON TICKETS TO ALL APIA HOME GAMES.

A FULL KIT
-Jersey, Shorts, Polo, Rain Jacket, Tracksuit, and Nike Match Ball.
10% off entry to any 365 Soccer Sixes 2016 competition.

Terry Mcflynn's - Donated a ACL Jersey 

Bat and Ball prizes 
Dinner for 4 plus wines, 
Membership for Dram Club. 
Bottle of Laddie Classic single malt Whisky.
1 x all you can eat wings (redeemed on Mondays)
1 x all you can eat burgers.(Redeemed on Tuesdays)
Steak dinner for 2 and a beer each (Redeemed on Wednesdays) Parmi for 2 plus beer each.(Redeemed on Thursdays)
Big daddy platter for 2 plus beer each.(Redeemed on Fridays) Sunday roast for 2 and a bottle of wine.(Redeemed on Sundays)

http://sfcu.com.au/smf202/index.php?topic=22473.0

Click Attending - https://www.facebook.com/events/463752117146619/permalink/478344312354066/

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ACL: Sydney FC Reach Round of 16 for the First Time

We've reached the Round of 16 in the ACL for the first time ever in the clubs history. Shandong Luneng of China are our opponents for this two-leg match-up and regardless of result we need to give our boys in blue a good showing in our home game on May 25.

Join the event page and invite all your friends, family, and colleagues and let's get our boys in blue over the line! With three weeks away, there's plenty of time to convince the undecided so take action as early as possible.

Facebook Event - https://www.facebook.com/events/1015855395174926/

As usual, pre-game drinks will be at The Bat and Ball Sydney from 5pm with specials to come as we get closer to the date.

Round of 16

sfclogo V shandong logo

1st Leg

Sydney FC v Shandong Luneng

Wednesday 18th May 2016

Venue: Jinan Olympic Sports Centre, Jinan

2nd Leg

Shandong Luneng v Sydney FC

Wednesday 25th May 2016

Venue: Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney 

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ACL: Sydney Top Group of Death

AFC Champions League Tables

Sydney FC have topped Group H in the Asian Champions League despite losing 1-0 away to Guangzhou Evergrande yesterday (Wednesday 3 May 2016).

It was known as the "group of death" and many didn't rate our chances. The Sky Blues finished ahead of Urawa Reds by 1 pt go into the Round of 16 without losing a game at home.  

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Sky Blues Power Without Glory

Graham Arnold’s shake of the head at the full time whistle told the story. Where had this performance been all season?

Resolute, blemish-free at the back.

In control of the midfield.

Clinical in front of goal.

Sydney FC’s display against a strangely lethargic Perth Glory was among its best of the season, flying in the face of their tentative A-League displays in recent months but continuing their rich vein of form in the Asian Champions’ League (ACL).  True, the visitors missed the guile of talismanic Diego Castro and the pace of Chris Harold but even that pair would have made little difference, such was the gulf in class on the day.

With Sydney’s A-League season dead and buried, one can only surmise that this was a performance with a view to Sydney’s clash with Urawa Red Diamonds on April 20. If so, the Japanese, sitting second to Sydney FC on the ladder, are in for a tough encounter.

David Carney has lost some of his electric pace of a decade ago but rolled back the years, eliciting the “Super Dave” chant from the Cove with an opportunistic finish, after some good lead-up work from Filip Holosko and a pinball-like bobble off two Glory defenders.

Carney’s decision-making plummeted in the last twenty minutes, as fatigue set in. With ten days to prepare for the Urawa match, Super Dave could be in for some tough training sessions as the coaching staff looks to build his fitness for the vital ACL games ahead. 

If Holosko’s chested control of Ali Abbas’ through ball that led to Carney’s opener was quality, the Slovak’s goal five minutes later was sheer class. Often criticised for not creating enough on his own – as befitting a marquee attacker – the winger drifted inside. Receiving the ball, Holosko outpaced and then dribbled around the seemingly static defensive duo of Alex Grant and Shane Lowry, finishing low and hard under the diving Perth keeper Ante Covic.

In the season’s wash-up, the displays of every Sky Blue player will come under the microscope, the foreign marquee’s that much more so. At times, the Slovak international disappointed but has reached ten goals by the end of the season – not a bad return for a winger in a team that has performed poorly in the A-League.

It is no secret that Holosko declined an opportunity to represent his country a few weeks back to give Sydney FC his best endeavours. His kissing of the Sydney badge upon scoring his goal against Glory on Saturday night indicates that playing in the Sky Blue shirt has come to mean much to the Slovakian.

The second half saw the Sky Blues create chance after chance and, but for better decision making, could have scored another two or three goals. There was a brief but ultimately fruitless Glory revival but the Sky Blues, now with ten men, sat back and picked off the visitors with one counterattack after another. And in the 84th minute of play, Milos Ninkovic released Abbas in the Perth penalty area and the Iraqi comfortably beat Dino Djulbic, smashing a rasping drive past Covic for a 3-0 lead.

If rumours are correct that Abbas, off contract at the end of the season, is looking to engineer a move overseas, the Cove favourite has a keen sense of history, scoring on his return from long-term injury at ANZ Stadium in January and now, possibly in his final A-League match for the Sky Blues. Either way, this isn’t a farewell – much is expected of Abbas in coming weeks.

In injury time, Brandon O’Neill released substitute Andrew Hoole, whose timing was perfect to receive the through ball at full pace and make a run at the Perth goal. The winger’s cross to Ninkovic was well aimed and the popular Serb finished clinically to end the Sky Blues’ A-League season on a high.

Once again, French cousins Jacques Faty and Mikael Tavares were conspicuous by their absence. Faty, now surplus to requirements, is no longer a Sydney FC player, while it appears that Tavares, who has another year to run on his contract, may not be overly keen on remaining with the club.

For ACL purposes, it would serve Sydney FC well to hold on to the midfielder until the end of the season, as the former Senegal international could still have an important role to play in the Asian competition. But one gets the feeling that Tavares’ days are numbered.

In a game where just about every Sydney player shaded his Perth opponent, the O’Neill-Milos Dimitrijevic midfield combination worked a treat, George Blackwood tried hard but took some poor options and Matt Simon put in a powerful effort, though, as ever, was a loose cannon with his tackles.

Ten day until Sydney’s ACL match against Urawa Red Diamonds. With a draw enough to get the Sky Blues through to the next round, a win will cement their spot at the top of the table. One hopes that more than 5,000 fans show up to support the club in the highest level of club football competition that Asia has to offer.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy the 4-0 win. At least it gave the fans something to smile about.

And forced others to shake their heads at what have been.

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