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The Mariners are undefeated in Group G and - while a win in the ACL still eludes them - Arnold was happy with their spirit. Josh Kennedy, meanwhile, rued key absences for Nagoya

The Central Coast Mariners are still seeking a maiden AFC Champions League victory, but coach Graham Arnold was nonetheless delighted with Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Nagoya Grampus at Gosford.

After their J.League opponents opened the scoring in the 21st minute through Marcus Tulio Tanaka, but the Mariners' own imperious central defender Patrick Zwaanswijk equalized just seven minutes later.

In an occasionally testy match, the A-League-leading Mariners showed plenty of spirit and should have perhaps taken the lead when lone striker Troy Hearfield was presented with a one-on-one opportunity with Nagoya goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki.

He failed to take the opportunity, but it was still a happy Arnold who fronted reporters after the Group G encounter.

"I cannot be prouder. We had four or five kids out there, 18, 19-year-olds and they were superb. We challenged the kids tonight and they came through with flying colours," he said.

"Adelaide were brilliant [in their defeat of Gamba Osaka on Tuesday] and we wanted to put on a good performance to show everyone why we’re sitting where we are on the league and that we’re worth it. It mattered to me because… people talk about the A-League but we're playing against a $50 million team and want to prove something.

"We had probably the best chance of the game [to win it]. [It was a] fantastic performance."

It was a tough match for Nagoya's Australian striker Josh Kennedy, who was identified before the match as the Mariners' biggest threat and often found himself double-teamed by opposing centre-backs Zwaanswijk and Alex Wilkinson.

The Socceroo said the visitors had sorely missed the presence of Naoshi Nakamura, Jungo Fujimoto and Yoshizumi Ogawa: "Yeah, we saw in [Saturday's league loss to] Tokyo… that these guys are important to us, to keep the ball, and the way we play, and it's hard to replace Fujimoto and Ogawa and Naoshi Nakamura in the middle," he said.

"These guys are key to us, and the guys played very hard, but like I said, these guys are hard to replace."

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