WANDERERS TAUGHT LESSON BY ULSAN: POPOVIC
Thursday, 27 February 2014:
It was their first foray into Asian football and Western Sydney got schooled, admits coach Tony Popovic.
The Wanderers kicked off their maiden Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign with a 3-1 loss to Korean giants Ulsan Hyundai at Parramatta Stadium on Wednesday.
They had a bright start with striker Brendon Santalab scoring one of the fastest ACL goals to put the hosts in front after just 45 seconds.
But that soon diminished as the technically superior Ulsan, who won the ACL two years ago, piled on three unanswered goals, making clear the gulf that still needs to be bridged between the A-League and Asia's biggest clubs.
"It's taught us as a club a real lesson," Popovic conceded.
"We can see that our football can compete at this level and we also see how much more we have to improve and how much more the smaller details matter the higher you go against quality players.
"The way they move the ball and keep the ball, they're tactically very intelligent in how they defend.
"We'll learn from this whole campaign but we'll learn from this game and we'll be better the next match."
One of the A-League's strongest defences was shown up by Ulsan who pounced on their inability to clear the ball to put away the three goals.
Boasting a host of Korean internationals, including towering striker Kim Shin-Wook who stands at over two metres tall, and dangerous Brazilian Rafinha Ulsan were always going to be a big challenge for the Wanderers.
"You make a defensive mistake you get punished," Popovic said.
"When they get opportunities they score and the higher you go, whether that's Europe or the top leagues in Asia, that's what you see.
"The best player on the field sometimes barely touches the ball. He touches it once and he scores. When he gets that chance he puts it away and that's what I thought you could see a step up in.
"A strength of theirs is how technically sound every single player is and that's a level we aspire to."
The Wanderers next face Chinese side Guizhou Renhe away on March 12 but first have two A-League clashes, against Newcastle and Sydney FC, in what is a hectic schedule for the club.