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Bar the heroics of Adelaide United in 2008, A-League clubs have struggled for success in the AFC Champions League. Paddy Higgs argues the Mariners and the Roar could change that.


Paddy Higgs | Chief editor

Most clubs will toe the same line when probed about their long-term prospects.

Australian sport, not just football, is a cliche-driven world, so it is not inconceivable the A-League's two best sides - the Central Coast Mariners and the Brisbane Roar - would declare their focus would be on Week 22 of their season, and not a moment further ahead.

Let the rest of us cast our minds a little further ahead, however; past Week 22 and forgetting the A-League season altogether.

Let us instead rest our gaze on March 6.  It is when both the Mariners and the Roar begin AFC Champions League campaigns.

The continental competition has proven a difficult course for A-League clubs to navigate.

Of the 10 campaigns undergone by A-League clubs, only three teams have moved past the group stage.  Adelaide United have been Australia's star performer, reaching the final in 2008. 

They, too, could be involved in the 2012 competition, though must first survive a probe into the eligibility of full-back Cassio in February 16's playoff win over Persipura Jayapura.

Few teams before or since have appeared close to mounting similar runs to Adelaide's in 2008.  Most other Asian clubs boast far more expensive squads than their salary-cap inhibited A-League counterparts - one only need look at Dario Conca's reported US$10.4m annual contract at Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande to see the difference.

But it would be too convenient to put the failure of A-League clubs in the ACL down to just dollars and yen.

Dual A-League champions Melbourne Victory are widely regarded as being the biggest club in Australia, yet have found it impossible to adapt their game to Asian conditions and opponents and have failed to get past the group stage in three attempts.

The conundrum of the consistent failure of A-League clubs in Asia is one that has perplexed many in Australia, though many have pointed to the timing of the competition as another reason.

With the competition's registration deadlines coming before the end of the A-League season, both the Roar and the Mariners will take to their first group match almost a year since the end of the domestic season in which they earned continental qualification.

With squads almost always quickly disassembled soon after winning an A-League title, due mainly to salary cap constraints, clubs have usually lost some momentum by the time their ACL campaigns limber around.

This year, however, there can be legitimate hopes that both the Roar and the Mariners can break the trend.

Both clubs are still the strongest two in the nation, and both possess savvy, well-travelled coaches that have raised the standard of football in the A-League.

The styles may differ somewhat and untested outside Australia they may be, but the tactical approaches of Roar coach Ange Postecoglou and Mariners counterpart Graham Arnold seem better equipped to deal with continental competition than many A-League clubs before them.

The talent in both squads runs deep, and young, fresh talent bubbles just below the surface of seasoned and established professionals.

Balancing the beginning of their group stage campaigns with their A-League finals ambitions will be difficult.

But while both clubs would be reluctant to look past the challenge of every matchday between now and March 6, the rest of us can perhaps gaze toward the 2012 AFC Champions League with more confidence in some seasons.

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