Explained: The five games separating Mariners from $2.3m & AFC Cup glory after Macarthur epic

Hear from winning coach Mark Jackson and Mariners star Josh Nisbet after Thursday's triumph over Macarthur in the AFC Cup

Central Coast Mariners have knocked Macarthur FC out of the AFC Cup in dramatic fashion, with Ronald Barcellos’ 120th-minute goal the difference in a 3-2 extra-time thriller at Campbelltown Stadium on Thursday night.

The Mariners led in the second half through Ángel Torres before a last-gasp equaliser from Bulls captain Ulises Dávila which sent the AFC ASEAN Zonal Final to 30 minutes of extra-time.

Bulls forward Lachlan Rose put the hosts on top in the opening minutes of additional time before the Mariners mounted a comeback of their own, with Mikael Doka levelling the score at 2-2 with a superb finish from range to provide the platform for Barcellos to break Macarthur hearts with a late, late winner – his first goal in Mariners colours.

Victory in the ASEAN Zonal Final sent the Mariners through to an Inter Zonal Semi-Final against India’s Odisha FC, and netted the A-Leagues club $100,000 (AUD ~$153,000) in prize money.

Thursday night’s clash was the first ever meeting of two A-Leagues clubs in AFC continental competition.

What’s next for the Mariners?

Central Coast are AFC ASEAN Zonal Champions – but their job is not done in the AFC Cup.

Next up is a clash with India’s Odisha FC – winner of the South Zone – in the two-legged Inter Zone Semi-Finals.

Taichung Futuro FC and FC Abdysh-Ata of Kyrgyzstan are facing off in the other Inter Zone Semi-Final.

The Mariners will host the first leg on Thursday, March 7 before travelling to India for the return leg on Thursday, March 14.

The winners of the Inter Zone Semi-Finals will then face off in a two-legged Inter Zone Final.

Finally, the winner across those two legs will progress to face the winner of the West Zone Final in a showpiece event on May 5 to crown the AFC Cup champions.

In the event Central Coast win the AFC Cup, they will receive an indirect slot into the 2024-25 AFC Champions League Elite via the preliminary rounds.

The AFC Cup champions will pocket USD $1.5 million (AUD $2.3million), with the runners-up collecting USD $750,000 (AUD $1.14m).

Mariners’ possible five-game journey to AFC Cup Final from here

  • Two-legged Inter Zone Semi-Finals v Odisha FC
  • Two-legged Inter Zone Final (Mariners or Odisha v Taichung Futuro FC or FC Abdysh-Ata)
  • AFC Cup Final

The first half was dominated by the Mariners on Thursday night, but the visiting side had nothing to show for it by the break, with Macarthur striker Valère Germain going closest to breaking the deadlock down the other end.

Germain called Mariners keeper Danny Vukovic into two saves that bookended a half otherwise bereft of genuine looks at goal, with the Mariners seeing half opportunities to Christian Theoharous and Miguel Di Pizio snuffed out by the Bulls.

Mariners head coach Mark Jackson made three changes at the break, taking off Storm Roux, Jing Reec and Christian Theoharous and bringing Bailey Brandtman, Ryan Edmondson and Torres off his bench.

Two of three Mariners substitutes combined to threaten Macarthur’s goal early in the first half when Edmondson drove down the left side of the penalty area to find Brandtman with a short pass into the six-yard box, but the 18-year-old couldn’t keep his first-time shot down.

Raphael Borges Rodrigues produced a moment of quality in the 52nd minute but again, Vukovic had the answer, diving across to parry the rasping effort out of danger.

Jed Drew came off the bench and continued to ramp up the pressure on the Mariners’ goal, driving across the box from the right wing and firing a strike just wide of the post.

Approaching the final 15 minutes of regular time, Edmondson was presented the chance to put Central Coast on top when a lofted ball over the Macarthur defence fell invitingly for a left-footed volley and his resulting effort was on target – but Kurto got down low to his left to deny the Englishman.

At last the dam wall broke when Nisbet sent Torres steaming in on goal with a delightful through pass which split the Macarthur defence down the middle. Torres saw Kurto rushing off his line and dinked the ball over the Bulls keeper and into the bottom corner to put the visitors in front.

But just two minutes before the end of regular time, Macarthur struck back.

Drew, who had been lively off the bench since his introduction, provided the assist with a curling delivery which found Dávila unmarked inside the box to glance past Vukovic and set up extra time.

Dávila scored two minutes before the end of the 90, and Rose bagged Macarthur’s second just two minutes after the restart.

Germain played a key role in the build-up, controlling a cross into the box with a first-time volleyed pass played into Rose’s path to touch and drill into the back of the net.

But on the cusp of half-time of extra time came a leveller at 2-2 for the Mariners – and what a goal it was by Doka who, after taking possession near the centre circle, breezed past Rose and whipped an effort off his weaker left foot into the bottom-left corner to level the scores once more.

Doka’s moment of brilliance set the stage for Barcellos to net a dramatic winner, finding himself in the right place at the right time to bury the fifth goal of the night past Kurto and decide the contest in the Mariners’ favour after 120 gruelling minutes in Campbelltown.

It was another classy move sparked by Nisbet, with Barcellos allowing the ball to roll into the feet of Alou Kuol who helped turn the ball back into the Brazilian’s path to win the game for Central Coast.