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Asian Champions League a warning sign for Australian football

With an Asian Champions League title in the display case at Western Sydney already, Australian teams have quickly established themselves as a power in the Asian Champions League.

Apart from the Wanders stunning 2014 title, Adelaide United has also made the final in 2008.

The 2017 edition kicked off last week and the A-League is represented by three teams Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanders and Adelaide United.

However the sobering thought out of the opening home and away games is, Asian teams are improving fast and we are in grave danger of dropping off the pace.

Now of course one set of games is really not enough of a sample to draw conclusions but the score line after three home games was A-League teams 0 v Visitors 7. That didn’t get any better in the opening away games of match day 2, with Brisbane Roar going down 6-0 and Western Sydney being humbled 5-1.

After the Adelaide result away, the score line for the A-League teams so far is is A-league 2 Rest of Asia 20.

In the opening home game Western Sydney were played off the park by in their 4-0 thumping by Urawa Red Diamonds. Now it needs to be noted that it was hardly a first string Wanders outfit, thanks to the three day turnaround from the derby in the A-League on the weekend, however a 4-0 thrashing still comes as a shock.

That slight excuse, if it ever existed, however fell away with the away game to Shanghai SIPG and the 5-1 score line was a pretty accurate reflection of the gulf between the two teams on the night.

Brisbane Roar meanwhile went in to their opening game as favourite at home against Muangthong United from Thailand. However they scrapped out a 0-0 all draw and many pundits felt the Thai’s had the better of the game.

So they carried some hope on their way to South Korea, against Ulsan but the final 6-0 score line was a humiliating outcome. It was also the equal worst result for an A-League side in the Asian Champions League.

The opening rounds wrapped up with Adelaide at home against Gamba Osaka in what always loomed as a tough game. Gamba are a tough opponent at the best of times and United are hardly having the best of seasons.

Still the final score of 3-0 was a heavy home defeat and horrible start to their group stage campaign.

Adelaide United did manage to restore some pride with a 2-1 loss to Jiangsu Suning in their first away game in China.

Now some will say that in the midst of the pointy end of the A-League season this all might just suggest Champions League is not top of the priority list right now.

However that is to suggest that the clubs are not looking longly on the possible monetary returns a long run in the Champions League would bring.

Also arguably apart from the Roar, the other two are not likely to turn their seasons around to win the A-League crown this season. So you could make a strong case the Champions League is actually more likely to be their focus.

So if we can assume they are all interested, then these results are a cause for concern for football in Australia.

This is because it comes at a time when the Socceroos are also making somewhat heavy going of their World Cup Qualification, including a recent draw against Thailand in what previously would have been considered an easier game within the group.

It still seems likely that the Socceroos will make it through to Russia but there might be some edge of your seat moments in the final qualification run.

As with most things it is likely that there is no one cause of this situation but a combination.

A-League squads are somewhat limited by salary cap constraints and import restrictions. So a heavy schedule combined with injuries and suspension can quickly expose them.

Australian sides are in the back end of their season, whilst most Asian competitions are getting underway or in their early stages. So A-League sides will be showing that wear and tear of their season.

Also there is no doubt that the amount of money across Asia and China in particular is seeing better quality players being attracted to their domestic leagues.

That isn’t to say the A-League has been missing out but you sense that we may soon face strong competition from across the region for some the star overseas players.

Perhaps, and this is harder to gauge, we are also levelling out a bit after our golden era and transition from the Kewell et al area.

The talent behind was enough to see us win the Asian Cup last year but with some further retirements since, maybe some of the younger talent has not yet taken that next step at the international level.

The immediate issue for the Champions League sides is with those home results in the vault, they now face overseas road trips crammed into their A-League Schedule.

Certainly some feel the A-League could assist more here with some flexible scheduling to give bigger breaks between games.

That however is complicated by the requirements of the FOXTEL contract and need to provide games across the weekend.

It is also worth noting that as an aside, the earthquake delayed Wellington Phoenix game for Melbourne Victory ended up providing a horror draw. With their make up game scheduled for a Tuesday in Wellington it slotted into the schedule the same week at their Perth trip the following weekend.

So moving games around the A-League schedule may not be a cure all some would hope.

Either way the opening games of the Asian Champions League has left the A-League teams in no doubt, the standard has lifted across Asia and to get out of the group they will need to show substantial improvement.