Sydney FC’s Asian Champions League campaign hangs by a thread after they came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw against Kashima Antlers.
The Japanese outfit took the lead through Mu Kanazaki, who headed home the ball from close range, after a horror clearance from Sky Blues midfielder Josh Brillante.
Matt Simon pulled the visitors level in the second half, heading home a floated cross from Luke Wilkshire from the left.
Group H standings
At the conclusion of the match, Sydney now sit two points behind Korean outfit Suwon Bluewings who are currently in action against Shanghai Shenhua with the winner of that match to take a clear advantage in second place.
If Arnold’s men are to qualify for the knockout stage of the competition, they will need to win their final two games while hoping other results go their way.
On the other hand, Kashima will be disappointed not to have taken a clear advantage at the top of the group table.
Full throttle towards an A-League title defence
Despite an improved performance from an understrength Sydney side, it now appears as if Graham Arnold’s attention will fully turn to his side defending their A-League title. As it stands, the Sky Blues are well and truly on their way to another Premiers’ Plate in the hope of securing back-to-back titles just a few weeks later.
With their Asian Champions League campaign now looking all but over it gives Arnold the perfect chance to rest key players, having often been criticised for not rotating his team throughout the season.
Ahead of the match, key foreigners Bobo, Jordy Bujis (not included in the tournament squad) and Milos Ninkovic were left at home giving them vital rest ahead of the final season run in. Meanwhile impressive midfielder Brandon O’Neill was absent.
These absentees saw Christopher Zuvella make his debut for the club, being handed a starting role in midfield. Charles Lokolingoy entered the fray in the match and may well start the next match with Matt Simon set to miss due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
In the grand scheme of things, we should see more opportunities for youngsters on the final two matchdays.
Aaron Calver growing alongside Alex Wilkinson
The absence of Bujis in this competition has seen Aaron Calver handed an opportunity by Arnold throughout the first four matchdays and against Kashima he shined. Throughout the night the 22-year-old made several impressive interceptions alongside smart challenges.
His confidence will only continue to grow against the evergreen Alex Wilkinson who continues to be as reliable as ever. While Calver continues to impress there is no reason to suggest he could have an impact if Bujis or Wilkinson were unable to feature in the final weeks of the A-League season.