Great 'disappointment' as Sydney FC's Champions League hopes fade
They claimed a gutsy away point, but it probably won't be enough for Sydney FC to secure an AFC Champions League round-of-16 spot.
A win over Group H leaders Kashima Antlers was really the only option in Japan on Tuesday night to keep the last-placed Sky Blues properly in the running to advance as one of the top two.
Yet for a few hours, their 1-1 draw may have offered just enough opportunity.
A draw between second-placed Suwon Bluewings and third-placed Shanghai Shenhua would have opened the door for a late run in Sydney's final two group fixtures.
But Suwon won 2-0, lifting the Korean outfit to seven points and almost out of reach of Graham Arnold's side (two points).
As it stands now, the Sky Blues must beat both the Bluewings and Shenhua, and then hope other results fall their way to nab an unlikely berth.
Based on their group results to date -- two home losses and two away draws -- the chances appear minuscule.
Arnold must have sensed it even before Tuesday's match, and opted for an unprecedentedly youthful matchday squad, some of whom had never played a minute of senior football.
He was, admittedly, forced into numerous changes with regulars Milos Ninkovic, Bobo and Michael Zullo injured and Brandon O'Neill suspended.
In their place Chris Zuvela looked tidy on competitive debut and Aaron Calver made some smart interceptions as the Sky Blues conceded a sloppy first goal to yet another Kashima set piece.
The second-half equaliser came from the most unlikely of sources when Matt Simon, the bit-part striker who had not scored in more than two years, headed Luke Wilkshire's cross over the line.
"I think any other day you come here and get a point, you'd be pretty happy," Simon said.
"But disappointment for our team. We prepared quite well and I think again a key moment in the match cost us.
"So disappointed not to get three points."