Barnstorming Brisbane can conquer Asia

by Ben Somerford on Nov 06, 2011

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I must admit I watched on in dismay as players and officials from Qatari club Al Sadd ran onto the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium pitch to celebrate reaching the final of the AFC Champions League (ACL) last Wednesday. For a variety of reasons, even as a neutral, it was hard to swallow.

Al Sadd now face Korean minor premiers Jeonbuk Motors in the final in Jeonju on Saturday, with the K-League side heading into the decider as hot favourites.

The Qatari club's place in the final will forever remain a controversial one, after taking an incredible rout to the decider, which included reaching the group stage via the qualifiers, getting past Iranian club Sepahan in the quarters despite losing both legs and then the infamous semi-final first leg brawl against Suwon Bluewings.

That ugly brawl was triggered after a goal from ex-Marseille and Fenerbahce striker Mamadou Niang which was described as “ungentlemanly” by Suwon boss Yoon Sung-Hyo. Even Al Sadd boss Jorge Fossati, famous to Australians as the Uruguay coach in the 2006 World Cup qualifying inter-confederational playoff, admitted it wasn't a fair goal, however nothing was done.

But the issues with fair play didn't stop there. Al Sadd produced time-wasting tactics to the extreme, with goalkeeper Mohammed Saqr going down in the second leg with cramp (yes a goalkeeper with cramp) as they clung onto a 2-1 aggregate lead. It is the kind of thing Brisbane Roar, without doubt the best A-League side ever, will face in the 2012 ACL.

Indeed, as Al Sadd's example shows, these types of tactics can get you a long way in Asia. The refereeing simply seems to tolerate it. It's these kinds of unfamiliar tactics which could break Brisbane, who are a class above any of their domestic opponents right now.

And having witnessed the ACL quarters and semis in my role as Asian Football Editor for over the past few weeks, let me confirm this Roar side would do very, very well in this competition.

Roar's proactive style with possession means opposition sides will find them very difficult to handle, particularly with their movement, while their pressure without the ball will test the technical capabilities of Asian sides, although most are better technically than A-League clubs.

FFA technical director Han Berger recently said Brisbane could compete in the Dutch Eredivisie which is a big call, and a fair indication they'd do well in the ACL.

However, there's the matter of whether Brisbane can cling onto the current squad which they've got, but as their success this term following the departures of Matt McKay, Jean Carlos Solorzano, Kosta Barbarouses and Luke DeVere shows, this team has a style and system which works no matter the personnel.

At the centre of that success is coach Ange Postecoglou, who this week has been linked with struggling Japanese giants Urawa Red Diamonds, who recently sacked Zeljko Petrovic. At this stage, it is only speculation, but if Postecoglou were to leave, you'd suspect it'd be hard for Brisbane to remain as strong as they currently are.

Postecoglou's philosophy is behind their system, his man management skills seem to get the best out of his players and it is his shrewd recruitment policy which has enabled them to fill the voids of the McKays and Solorzanos, with exceptional talents like Besart Berisha and Issey Nakajima-Farran who were both plucked from relative obscurity despite their nomadic careers.

Whether Postecoglou will be tempted to go to Urawa is hard to know. Whether Urawa are genuinely interested is also difficult to know. A lot will depend on whether they remain in the J.League as they are currently battling the drop with only four games to play. The Mitsubishi-backed club have the resources to lure him to the Land of the Rising Sun and they are a club in need of a major overhaul after struggling for the past few years, so if they really want him, you fancy they'll pull out all stops.

However my Japanese sources inform me that Urawa don't even know just yet what direction they want to head, so it's all speculation at this stage. But Postecoglou remaining at the Roar will be the key. If he does, this club could take Australian club football to new heights. Surely that's something worth sticking around for.