Shandong result to define Sky Blues’ season


Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold says progression to the last eight of the AFC Champions League on Wednesday night would make up for their disappointing showing in the Hyundai A-League.

Beaten grand finalists in the A-League last year, the Sky Blues endured a horror campaign in 2015/16 to miss the Finals Series altogether.

But it’s been a different story in the ACL, topping a tough group which included defending Asian Champions Guangzhou Evegrande, Japanese giants Urawa Reds and South Korea’s Pohang Steelers.

ACL preview: Sydney FC v Shandong Luneng

And the club is now just 90 minutes away from a possible berth in the quarter finals of the competition when they host Chinese outfit Shandong Luneng on Wednesday night.

The Sky Blues appear in the box seat to progress after scoring a vital away goal in the first leg’s 1-1 draw last week.

David Carney opened the scoring for Sydney FC against Shandong in the first leg of their ACL tie.

“We’ve had a tough year and it’s been a long year. After tomorrow night it’s pretty much been 11 full months and during that period we’ve had ups and downs, it’s been a test of character for everyone involved,” Arnold told reporters on Tuesday.

“The players have come through it very well. The form in the Champions League has been excellent. We’ve come through a tough group that no one gave us a chance of getting through.

“It’s our chance to make up for our performance in the A-League which wasn’t fantastic.

“If we get the result tomorrow we can go on holidays and have a big challenge to look forward to when we come back for the last eight in August,” Arnold added.

“Its 90 minutes we want it done by, but if it goes to 120 we’re prepared for that mentally and physically. We’ll be prepared for whatever happens…we’re confident the result will be the one we want.”

Shangdong Luneng's Carlos Gilberto Silva controls the ball from Sydney FC's Milos Dimitrijevic.

Apart from skipper Alex Brosque, Sydney should be close to full strength, with only defender Seb Ryall in doubt to take his place in the squad.

If Ryall isn’t fit enough to return to the starting side, Arnold hinted he would stick with the same defence that was so strong in China, meaning Zac Anderson will start again.

“Everyone is healthy and mentally fresh and very keen for the game,” the Sky Blues boss said.

“The atmosphere in the group is outstanding, the morale is high. They were proud of their performance last week but as we know football is a funny game, things can change quickly and we have to make sure we put in our best performance against a very good team.”

Arnold reiterated the theme he’s been sticking to all week that his side would go all-out for victory, despite only needing a 0-0 draw to advance.

Sydney FC celebrate David Carney scoring against Shandong Luneng in the ACL.

“It’s extremely dangerous if you try and play for a draw and sit back. Everything we’ve spoken about this week is about winning the game,” he said.

“We’ve done quite a bit of analysis work and we believe we have the potency to do that.”

“[But] in a game like tomorrow night you have to have more than one plan. We’ll start off with our game plan to win the game. We’ve got to be ready for anything that happens.

“For me mentally, I’ve got four or five plans ready that may need to occur over the 90 minutes.”