Defeat to Korean powerhouse sees Sky Blues bow out of AFC Women’s Club Championship

Sydney FC have bowed out of the 2023 AFC Women’s Club Championship after a 3-0 defeat to Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels in Uzbekistan on Sunday night (AEDT).

The Sky Blues came into the third and final group game at Jar Stadium in Tashkent with six points from a possible six after victories over Nasaf and Bam Khatoon; Ante Juric’s side led Red Angels on goal difference alone heading into the last group game.

It meant that only a draw was needed for Sydney to finish top of the group and progress to the AFFC Women’s Club Championship final against Urawa Red Diamonds who have top spot of Group A locked down.

But it wasn’t meant to be for the Sky Blues. Goals on either side of half-time to Tia N’Rehy and Hong Hye-ji sent Red Angels en route to victory, with a thumping strike from captain Kim Hye-ri putting that result beyond doubt.

It was always likely to be a challenge for Sydney to overcome the Korean Women’s Football League giants in Tashkent. Red Angels have won 10 domestic titles in a row, and have a squad that boasts seven players from Korea Republic’s 2023 World Cup campaign.

In-form Sydney striker Fiona Worts had an early opportunity to give the Australian side a one-goal advantage; her first-time volley off a cross from the right wing went just wide of the mark in the ninth minute of play.

It was an arm wrestle for much of the first half before N’Rehy struck, pouncing on a through ball from Jang Chang to bury her strike past Jada Whyman and break the deadlock.

Tia N’Rehy celebrates the opening goal: 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC)

Sydney started the second half full of life brightly and almost found the equaliser when a corner routine led to Jessica Seaman’s close-range attempt diverting off the foot of the post; Princess Ibini set off in chase of the loose ball and went down in the box under what appeared to be contact from the sprawling goalkeeper.

Ibini led team-wide appeals for a penalty which wasn’t to come for the Sky Blues.

Sydney needed only a draw to end the game on top of Group A – but even a stalemate felt out of reach when Hong Hye-ji made it 2-0 in the 54th minute. This time it was Red Angels threatening from a corner, taken from the right flank but shifting to the left where a loose runner collected possession and crossed for Hye-ji to finish from close range.

The third of the night was struck sweetly into the top-left corner from some distance by Kim Hye-ri. Driving through the middle of the park, the Red Angels captain took advantage of the space Sydney had afforded her and went on to make them pay with a long-range thunderbolt, giving Whyman no chance of a save.

Featured image credit: 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC)