Wanderers' ACL campaign left in tatters
WESTERN Sydney's Asian aspirations are close to extinguished after another continental defeat.
Going down 3-2 at home to FC Seoul left Tony Popovic's side bottom of their Asian Champions League group with just two games to go, suffering their third defeat in four ACL games.
Thanks to Urawa Reds beating Shanghai SIPG in the group's other game, the Wanderers must now beat both of those teams in their last two games by substantial margins, and hope other results go their way.
To all intents and purposes, the ACL campaign is over.
"It's a shame," said Popovic.
"We conceded a very early goal which was a wonderful strike but we were punished.
"The players recovered from that very well and totally controlled the game.
"We couldn't get the breakthrough when we were on top and then there was another sucker punch. In the end our fighting spirit was fantastic."
It was a hugely frustrating night for Western Sydney, who had left the pitch at the halftime break bemused at being two goals down.
More than two-thirds of possession had been theirs, and Vedran Janjetovic had scarcely touched the ball, yet somehow Seoul had scored twice.
The first was a bolt from the blue, scored in just the fifth minute; when the ball was worked across the field to Lee Seokhyun there seemed little danger, until the midfielder suddenly unleashed a pile-driver from 25m that fairly flew past Janjetovic.
Undaunted Western Sydney regrouped and continued to press the Seoul defence from all angles.
Jumpei Kusukami, Terry Antonis and Mitch Nichols swapped possession and positions, trying to draw out the visitors' back four, but too often the execution was poor just as an opening seemed there.
The best chance came to Nichols, after Jumpei had cut the ball back towards the penalty spot, but Nicols's shot flew high over the bar, to the exasperation of the 5438 crowd.
That sense of angst just increased moments before halftime, when Seoul earned the softest of penalties as Mauro Pontes Junior went down under the softest challenge from Scott Nevile. Dejan Damjanovic struck the spotkick home with confidence.
It could have been worse with 54 minutes gone, when Damjanovic curled a freekick towards goal that Janjetovic did well to push aside.
But on 71 minutes the Montenegrin added a fine individual second, twisting and turning on the edge of the box before driving home a low shot.
Western Sydney threw caution to the wind, and with 76 minutes gone had a lifeline. Jumpei sprinted down the right and cut back, this time for Antonis to sidefoot past Yoo Hyun in the Seoul goal.
Manfully the home side sought a way back into the tie but only in injury time did they strike again - Antonis won the ball in the middle and from his pass Nicolas Martinez fired in a cross that Lachlan Scott headed home. But in the end it was too little, too late.