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Sydney FC opened their fifth Asian Champions League campaign since 2007 with a solid yet uninspiring goalless draw at the Jubilee Stadium in Kogarah yesterday evening, while despite a faltering performance by their goal keeper, Ulsan Hyundai managed to cling on to secure a valuable away point from their Group H encounter.

Others have written about the match itself so I want to focus on the crowd. 

Yet again, it was a disappointing  crowd of only 4,039 demonstrating that Asian Champions League (ACL) mid week football continues to languish in the imagination of the football community in Australia. There is no easy solution to overcome such apathy and the problem applies to other nations too when it comes to the ACL, not just Australia. 

In today’s Espresso, Football Today noted that there were mitigating factors yesterday.

Firstly, after thunderstorms in the afternoon the subsequent blustery weather was unpleasant for players and spectators, and a midweek fixture in a big city like Sydney is not helped by the inadequate and inflexible public transport infrastructure. 

Secondly, many families have other commitments, and those still playing may have training, making it more difficult for many 'natural' grassroots local participants of the game to attend as fans.

However, having said that, some more targeted, innovative and aggressive marketing would help from FFA in partnership with the Asian Football Confederation and their sponsors. 

It is also disappointing that governments and corporations in Australia are still not seizing the opportunities that can come from engagement with East Asia through football, and this needs facilitation and some cultural shifts at leadership levels of FFA.  

For all of that, ‘The Cove’ active home support did as well as they could with some colour and consistent chanting throughout the game. At the opposite end a small, yet passionate group of Ulsan fans made their presence known including with a giant hand painted banner. 

For Sydney FC, drawing rather than losing means its hopes for eventual progression to the round of 16 are realistic. Next week they travel to Japan to face Kawasaki who lost their opener away to Shanghai SIPG. 

FFA have already assisted the ACL teams by alleviating the fixture congestion by not scheduling an A-League fixture over the coming weekend for Sydney or Melbourne Victory, the other Australian representative in this year’s ACL. Such initiatives do help especially with such arduous travel for our teams. 

Melbourne Victory meet Sanfrecce Hiroshima next week in what will be a blockbuster match with the return of Keisuke Honda to Japan. 

I fly to Thailand on Friday, and next week will return to the ‘Thunder Castle’ to see Buriram United play Jeonbuk of Korea. 

Stay tuned for another report as the hosts attempt the emulate their achievements of last season in the ACL when they reached the round of 16. 

In April and May last year, it was a privilege to be at two amazing home games. Buriram secured a dramatic last gasp draw against Guangzhou Evergrande on the way to progression to the knock out stage. Then they produced a stirring 3-2 victory over Jeonbuk in the round of 16 first leg, which unfortunately was not enough, going down 0-2 in the return leg. 

I am looking forward to experiencing a contrast of the two fixtures in Australia and Thailand, and the extent and intensity of support for them from fans.

Photo: Pablo Bateson

Categories: Opinion | Asia

#acl2019, asian champions league, sydney fc, buriram united, asian football confederation, ffa

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