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WhoScored: Zabaleta-Sterling a key battle

Tactics And Analysis 4 hours ago
Read
Apr 14, 2012

ACL means more than grand final: Mariners

Central Coast have no choice but to focus on the Asian Champions League now but coach Graham Arnold insists the competition means more to him than contesting the A-League grand final.

The Mariners' hopes of a second straight grand final against Brisbane Roar were shot down as Perth Glory beat them to a spot in next week's competition decider with a penalty shootout win in Saturday night's preliminary final in Gosford.

Arnold was left disappointed after the loss, taking aim at referees after replays showed the Glory's goal to Shane Smeltz should have been ruled offside, as the match finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.

But he was also philosophical, declaring himself a traditionalist and saying he considered more value in the Mariners winning the Premiers' Plate for finishing top of the table and their current ACL campaign.

The Mariners face Seongnam Ilhwa in South Korea on Wednesday and Arnold even claimed he was considering fielding a weaker team for the grand final, should they have made it through.

"It (losing to Perth) probably saves me one embarrassing thing of whether I was going to play a second team on Wednesday night or a second team in the grand final," Arnold said.

"Because having to go to South Korea is obviously very difficult and again, I'm a traditionalist.

"For me it's more important to get into the last 16 of the ACL than win a grand final.

"The grand final is obviously the Australian way and it's a beautiful way, but it's cup football and totally different to what you do for 27 rounds.

"Our focus now is to get to the last 16 of the ACL."

Central Coast sit equal second in their ACL group with Seongnam after three games and Arnold admitted his players would have to quickly bounce back after being left devastated by the loss to the Glory.

Arnold said his players could be proud of their season but admitted the cash-strapped club's mid-season sales of striker Matt Simon and midfielder Rostyn Griffiths had been a setback.

"Our form probably over the last 10 weeks, has been quite good, but he haven't played the way we wanted to play and losing the heart and soul of your team has hurt us and hurt us quite badly," Arnold said.

"That's the disappointing thing - you build a team at the start of the year then you have two of your best players sold during the season. It makes it difficult."

While Arnold joked copping more bad decisions from referees meant he "maybe should go to a bigger club" he is likely to have to make some serious calls on his future in the coming weeks, with Sydney FC expected to ramp up their pursuit of the former Socceroos coach.

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