Coach Tony Popovic remained philosophical about Western Sydney Wanderers’ loss to FC Seoul, claiming the club’s younger players will benefit from their continental experience.
Western Sydney went into Tuesday night’s AFC Champions League (ACL) game at Campbelltown Stadium knowing a second straight win over Seoul would have put them right in the mix for the Round of 16.
The Wanderers finished the match all but eliminated from the ACL as Lee Seok-hyun’s blistering opener and Dejan Damjanovic’s double saw the visitors triumph 3-2.
Terry Antonis and Lachlan Scott dragged the hosts back into the contest in the final 15 minutes but Western Sydney couldn’t manage an equaliser as they slumped to a third defeat in Group F.
“In the end, the fighting spirit was fantastic,” Popovic said at his post-match press conference.
“You know, they kept fighting to the end. We scored two wonderful goals but gave away three very poor goals.”
While Popovic didn’t shy away from his side’s “disappointing” results, he insisted Western Sydney will benefit from the 2017 ACL due to the experience gained by youngsters.
Centre-back Jonathan Aspro (20) and striker Scott (19) were again amongst the Red and Black’s better players.
“I think it’s showing, [their development is] clearly accelerating,” Popovic said.
“Jonathan I thought was very good tonight… I thought Lachie fought hard, he battled hard and, you know, the kid was cramping in the last 10 minutes and he scored a wonderful goal.
“It’s a fantastic striker’s goal and had we not lost tonight, I’m sure you’d be speaking a lot more about the two wonderful goals we scored.”
Seoul hit the front in the fourth minute when midfielder Lee blasted the ball past Vedran Janjetovic from a tight angle and the K League champions doubled their lead just before the break thanks to a soft penalty converted by Damjanovic.
The Montenegrin striker made it 3-0 in the 71st minute before Antonis got on the end of a flowing move six minutes later to give Western Sydney some hope.
Scott then expertly held off his marker to powerfully head Nico Martinez’s cross inside the near post in second-half stoppage time.
Popovic bemoaned the Wanderers’ inability to break down Seoul’s back five in the first half.
“The final decision kind of let us down,” he said.
“We maybe started holding onto the ball too long instead of really trying to penetrate.”