Thursday, 10 April 2008

In praise of the ACL

Northern terrace in action

While it was disappointing to go down to Gamba Osaka in the dying minutes of what had been a pulsating match, the reality is that on the night the better team probably won. Although Gamba Osaka is making a habit of scoring in the penultimate minutes of matches having done so in all of their ACL games so far this campaign. But what grabbed my attention, and it may be stating the obvious, was that ACL football is so much better than A-League football. It was my first ACL game in the flesh as I had missed the opening game against Chunnam Dragons due to work commitments. The style of play is better, the technical ability of teams comes to the fore, and of course the support is better.

Starting with the style of play. It was of much slower pace and thus more controlled than A-League, where teams try run the opposition of the park. The technical ability of our opposition was far superior and it showed. Gamba's ability to put in decent crosses time after time eventually took its toll in the end, with three of their four goals coming from the head. Mike Tuckerman, in my previous post stated that one of Gamba's most obvious strengths is their set pieces. Yasuhito Endo is probably one of the best set piece takers in Asia, and he's a constant menace over any kind of dead ball. How true were those words. Its also worth noting that they have seven current full internationals, and their last substitute Under 20 national team representative.

Our propensity to rely on the long ball was grating at times. We really missed the influence of Hernandez in the midfield, who I believe would have flourished in this style of play. When we have players such as Pace and Pantelidis in our midfield it does not bode well. Having to push players such as Ward and to a lesser extent, Caceres forward, really limits the creativity of our midfield. Standout players for the night were Celeski, Caceres, Allsopp and Muscat.

And finally to the support. The support was awesome. Everyone was talking about it after the Chunnam game but of course I didn't experience it. This time I was sitting directly opposite the North Terrace and directly above the South Terrace. The sound generated by those opposite me was fantastic and with all the oversized flags it was truly an inspiring site. Lets hope it continues in the upcoming season. Kudos also to the visiting supporters from Osaka as well, who although small in number and maybe stature, generated plenty of their own noise as well.

So obviously our chances of moving past the group stage range from pretty slim to nil after last night's result but there is much to be learnt from our first journey into Asia, not only for Melbourne Victory but for Australian clubs in general. The teams we have encountered from the J-League so far can serve as prime example of the direction in which we should be heading, especially in developing local talent.

Gamba Osaka fans in full voice


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