318-team gap that hints Aussie football’s next historic moment in Asia could come in 2024

Mariners dominate Odisha to take four goal first leg lead | AFC Cup Highlights

It’s advantage Central Coast Mariners in the two-legged AFC Cup Inter-Zonal Semi Finals after a 4-0 win over Odisha FC at Industree Group Stadium on Thursday night.

The Mariners hosted the Indian Super League club in the first of two legs and took command of the tie with goals on either side of half-time to Mikael Doka and Storm Roux, before Doka secured his brace from the penalty spot to put the A-Leagues club out of sight.

Ronald Barcellos scored a fourth in the 90th minute to cap off a comprehensive Central Coast performance and give his side a commanding advantage in the tie ahead of the return leg on Thursday, March 14 at Kalinga Stadium (9pm AEDT kick-off).

Should the Mariners overcome Odisha after the second leg, they will then play the winner of FC Abdysh-Ata Kant (Kyrgyzstan) v Taichung Futuro (Taiwan) – again over two legs – for a spot in the AFC Cup Final, where they will meet the winner of the Western Zone semi-final between Al-Ahed of Lebanon and Oman’s Al-Nahda Club.

The Mariners dominated the first half and would have led by a considerable margin at the break if not for a number of missed chances – including a glorious opening for Jing Reec inside the first minute of play.

Reec took possession off Carlos Delgado deep in Odisha’s defence and streamed into a one-on-one with Amrinder Singh but the Odisha captain rushed off his line to deny the Mariners forward.

The hosts pressed on in search of an early opener and almost found one a minute later when play shifted from right to left, leading to an Ángel Torres strike angled just wide of the bottom-right corner.

With 12 minutes on the clock, chaos ensued in Odisha’s defensive penalty area. Jacob Farrell sparked the action with a cross floated to the back post, latched onto by Storm Roux who pummelled the ball off the crossbar.

The ball dropped within centimetres of the goal line but didn’t cross as the Mariners saw another golden chance go begging.

Odisha settled after the Mariners’ relentless start but as the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes of the first half, the home side broke the deadlock. Josh Nisbet provided the assist with a cutback off the left wing, inviting Doka to strike first-time off his non-preferred left foot past Amrinder to give Central Coast a 1-0 lead.

Odisha had a half-chance shortly before the break, with former Wellington Phoenix and A-Leagues star Roy Krishna setting up Diego Maurício to shoot from a narrow angle and call Danny Vukovic into his first save of the evening.

The second half resumed with the Mariners leading the Indian Super League Champions by one goal to nil but that lead soon became two as Roux doubled the advantage in some style.

A series of one-touch passes led to Ryan Edmondson feeding the ball into Roux’s path in the box, who responded with a thunderous effort directed into the top-left corner.

Krishna and Mauricio combined for Odisha’s only genuine chance of the first half and together they threatened once more shortly after the Mariners’ second – and this time, after a Roux tackle on Krishna dropped the ball at the feet of Mauricio, it was a committed block from Brian Kaltak that sent the resulting shot wide.

Long-term fans of the Isuzu UTE A-League were perhaps hoping to tune in to see Odisha’s Krishna produce a glimpse of the form that saw him become a favourite in Phoenix colours but his telling contribution ultimately came down the wrong end for his team as his tackle on Farrell earned the Mariners a penalty.

Doka stepped forward to wrap up his brace with a calmly-taken Panenka chipped right down the middle of the target into the roof of the net.

Barcellos came off the bench to put Central Coast four goals to the good in the last minute of regular time, sliding in to meet Doka’s delicate pass across goal to give his side a formidable advantage in the tie.

The road from here: can the Mariners do it? 

After Thursday’s comprehensive 4-0 win over Odisha, it’s a thought to savour for Australian football fans.

Central Coast is strongly strongly-positioned to secure a path to the AFC Cup Inter-Zonal Final – and with just four games now separating the A-Leagues club from AFC Cup silverware, Australians can dare to dream of the potential of the first piece of silverware in AFC continental competition since Western Sydney Wanderers’ 2014 Champions League triumph.

And according to Opta’s Power Rankings – a global team ranking system pitting more than 13,000 domestic football teams against one another – the Mariners should be confident of overcoming any of the five clubs joining them at the pointy-end of this season’s AFC Cup campaign.

The Mariners are ranked as the 483rd-best club in world football on the Opta Power Rankings. Odisha, the current Indian Super League leaders, are 2,446th. 

Should Central Coast finish the job against Odisha, they will then play the winner of FC Abdysh-Ata Kant (Kyrgyzstan) v Taichung Futuro (Taiwan) – again over two legs – for a spot in the AFC Cup Final, where they will meet the winner of the Western Zone semi-final between Al-Ahed of Lebanon and Oman’s Al-Nahda Club.

Here’s where every remaining club sits on the Opta Power Rankings:

  • Central Coast Mariners: 483rd
  • Al-Ahed: 801st
  • Al-Nahda: 973rd
  • Odisha FC: 2,446th
  • Abdysh-Ata Kant: 3,249th
  • Taichung Futuro: 6,861

Visit the Opta Power Rankings here