The opening game to Group F of the Asian Champions League at the Campbelltown Sports Stadium on the south-west fringes of metropolitan Sydney between Western Sydney Wanderers and Urawa Red Diamonds had been expected to be a tight affair. It wasn’t – finishing 0-4 rout to the visitors.

A temperature of 24 degrees, moderate humidity and light winds combined with an excellent pitch surface to provide ideal conditions. Disappointingly, a crowd of only 5,590 attended while many others seemed discouraged by the kick-off time being brought forward to 7pm to avoid a clash with the Group E game between Brisbane Roar and Muangthong United of Thailand.

Urawa was the first club from Japan to win the ACL in 2007 under coach Holger Osieck, who subsequently guided the Socceroos into the Brasil 2014 World Cup finals. For this match, the visitors were still in pre-season mode with big question marks about their fitness over 90 plus minutes of football against the 2014 ACL Champions who are more than two-thirds into their A-League 2016-17 campaign.

Just after 5pm, the travelling Reds supporters had set up their impressive array of banners and flags at the northern end of the stadium. As with their visit to Sydney FC in last year’s competition, they deservedly have the reputation of setting the standard for all active away fans groups of ACL participating clubs to aspire for.

Closer to kick-off, the Red and Black Bloc (RBB) took their place to the right of the eastern stand, in numbers not a lot less than against Newcastle a month before. Despite other reports and many comments on social media, overall the RBB outsang the Reds fans with greater consistency over the game.

The first half was largely uninspiring football with the only clear cut chance created being in the 12th minute when a low shot from left was well saved by Wanderer’s keeper Vedran Janjetovic. Half-time at 0-0, and there was every reason to believe the hosts were in with an excellent opportunity to secure a good result.

However, it was the Reds who stepped up the tempo and their counter attacking fluency was rewarded on 56 minutes when Shinzo Kohrogi produced a wonderful finish. Only two minutes later, Tandanari Lee volleyed home for the visitors.

The response by the Wanderers was unconvincing. On 68 minutes, it was Tomoaki Makino who stabbed the ball into the net after more naive defending from the Wanderers. Then in the 86th minute, the Brasilian import and substitute Rafael da Silva scored with a fierce shot inside the near post to complete the rout for 4-0.

Head coach, Serbian Mihailo Petrović, though gracious in victory, had every reason to be proud and jubilant with his side’s performance. Quite simply, they had outplayed their opponents in every aspect right across the park. With such exciting talent there is every reason to believe the Reds can go deep into the knock-out stages of this year’s tournament.

In contrast, it was perhaps the most underwhelming display by the Wanderers in three seasons of ACL football. Unless they can bounce back next week on the road versus Shanghai SIPG, then any realistic chances of eventually finishing in a top two spot may have already have slipped away.

The encounter on Tuesday night highlighted a gulf between J-League and A-League teams in a technical sense. Former Socceroos’ legend and football media personality Ned Zelic after the game that he was particularly impressed with how well the Reds “played out of defence” on the park with “poise and technique”.

We need to be reminded that Urawa Reds was founded in 1950, turned professional in 1992 and have been mostly in the J-League since its establishment a year later. This compares with the A-League’s much shorter history from 2005, and with full implementation of a national curriculum since only 2013.

The reality is that the benchmark has been set which requires bridging a significant gap. This means FFA working closely in partnership with State associations and clubs of the A-League and the second tier to commit much greater resources for strategic football development at junior and youth levels. It remains to be seen how well the emerging football academies of some more visionary A-League clubs also make measurable progress in this process.

In the meantime, with Brisbane Roar being held last night to a 0-0 draw at home, and Adelaide United so far having a lamentable domestic season, it would need a supreme optimist to think that an Aussie team will ‘over perform’ in the 2017 ACL.

Comments and feedback welcome via Twitter @PabloFootball & @myfootballtoday

Pablo Bateson is a freelance innovator and writer for football and regular columnist for Football Today. His global travels across six continents have included football in 23 countries, with 15 in Asia for World Cup qualifiers of the Socceroos and second leg of the 2014 Asian Champions League final. Previously over more than two decades, Pablo had professional policy and management roles at different times in all three levels of government, industry, the tertiary education sector, and not-for-profit organisations. He will soon be commencing post graduate research on the culture of active fans and supporter groups associated with A-League clubs in Australia.

Categories: Analysis | Asia

asian champions league, western sydney wanderers, urawa red diamonds

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