Sky Blues’ ACL campaign fizzles out
IN the end there was to be no glory in Asia for the team from Sydney, undone in Korea by an American piece of brilliance.
Sydney FC's Asian Champions League campaign is officially over, at least in competitive terms, after a 1-0 defeat to Ulsan Hyundai that left the Sky Blues rock bottom of their group and unable to progress.
Mix Diserud's piece of improvisation on the hour mark proved the difference, sending his team through to the knockout stages with a back heel from 10m into the bottom corner after a low cross wasn't cleared.
With just a redundant home fixture against Kawasaki Frontale to come on the ACL front, Sydney have plenty of time to ponder the most salient lesson of all - that the taking of chances at this level is the single most important factor in a team's ability to progress.
Used to helping themselves to chances in the A-League like an all-you-can eat buffet, Sydney managed to fashion just a handful in Ulsan but couldn't turn them into goals.
Admittedly goalkeeper Oh Seung-Hoon had an inspired night in the home goal, a performance liberally doused with good fortune too, but in the final analysis he shouldn't have been given the chance to be a hero.
From the moment early on when Paulo Retre arrived at the far post but blazed Michael Zullo's cross high and wide, the tone was set.
Reza Ghoochannejhad similarly glanced a free header over, and worse was to follow in the second half.
Both Anthony Cacares and Danny De Silva were able to meet the ball freely around the penalty spot on 64 and 70 minutes respectively, and both struck it powerfully but unerringly at Oh - in Cacares's case, straight into the goalkeeper's face.
There were noteworthy performances from Andrew Redmayne in goal, and at left back from the returning Michael Zullo who produced a series of well-struck crosses with no-one able to provide the end product.
The result means that although Sydney could in theory finish level on points with Shanghai SIPG, and possibly even better their goal difference, they are certain to be eliminated by the Asian Football Confederation's use of head-to-head records to divide teams on equal points.
A 3-3 draw in Sydney and a 2-2 stalemate in the reverse fixture gives Shanghai more away goals than the Sky Blues - a cruelly niche way to go out of a competition. Shanghai's last-gasp equalizer in Sydney has proven to be even more costly than was feared at the time.
Sydney now have to swallow this disappointment and refocus their energies and on Sunday's semi-final with Melbourne Victory.
Personnel changes are certain, with Ghoochannejhad vulnerable after several missed chances - most notably in the final seconds when he was put clear on goal but saw a very tame shot cleared off the line. That rather summed up the night.
Ulsan Hyundai FC 1 (Mix Diskerud 59) Sydney FC 0 at Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium. Referee: Ali Al Qaysi