By Dejan Kalinic
Adelaide United's AFC Champions League run shows what a hurting but proud club can achieve on the continental stage.
John Kosmina's men were disappointing - to say the least - in the 2011-12 A-League season, finishing ninth with just five wins.
It was expected the Reds would take that form into Asia. But, after needing a 3-0 win over Persipura to qualify, Adelaide - the 2008 ACL runners-up - have been superb.
Officially playing under assistant Luciano Trani but with the as-yet unqualified Kosmina pulling the strings, the one-time A-League premiers have advanced to the quarter-finals.
It is a fitting time to reflect on Adelaide's efforts in the continental competition, with the Reds ensuring their progression to the final eight on May 29 in their 1-0 win over Nagoya Grampus.
They now have a well-earned break to look forward to, with the first leg of the quarter-finals not until September 19.
The Reds have completely reversed their domestic form on the continental stage.
Although criticised for playing on the counter-attack and often setting up in a 4-5-1, Adelaide are the only Australian team left in the competition.
A-League champions Brisbane Roar came and went in their maiden Asian campaign, while the Central Coast Mariners also fell at the group stages.
Both play largely attractive and attacking football, but conceding 11 goals each in six group games cost them.
Adelaide have conceded just two goals in eight matches, including the play-off, and Kosmina deserves to be applauded.
The Reds allowed through an A-League-worst 44 goals last season, yet their Champions League run has been based on defence.
|A TALE OF TWO COMPETITIONS
| ADELAIDE'S RECORD IN THE 2011-12 A-LEAGUE SEASON
| ADELAIDE'S RECORD IN THE 2012 AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
They rode their luck in the Round of 16 win over Nagoya Grampus, with captain and goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic starring.
Nigel Boogaard and Cassio have expectedly been constants in defence, while Jon McKain has belatedly shown what he is capable of after an underwhelming domestic season.
Add Daniel Mullen and the contributions of Iain Fyfe and Adelaide are competing the way they were expected to in the league last season.
The versatile Osama Malik has often played a key role as the holding midfielder.
With the pace of Iain Ramsay, Zenon Caravella and Bruce Djite on the counter-attack and the cleverness of Dario Vidosic, Adelaide are set up to succeed.
Djite deserves the plaudits after a fine campaign, with his single goal in the group stages not reflecting his performances.
Often isolated up front, the American-born striker has battled hard, holding up play and providing the Reds with a much-needed target.
Criticisms of Adelaide being defensive are warranted, but Kosmina has simply put into place a counter-attacking style that suits his side. Most importantly, United are winning.
Not every team is made to play passing football and - against the best teams in Asia - it often fails.
After their poor A-League campaign, the Reds have responded and done so in style.
Playing a similar style to the one that led them to a runners-up finish in the 2008 AFC Champions League, the Reds are on track for another decider.
This was the response Adelaide would have wanted after the league season, and the proud club has shown why they are one of the most respected in Australia.