Sydney fearless after escaping group of death

In the aftermath of securing top-spot in Group H of the AFC Champions League, Sydney FC are certain they can now overcome any challenge thrown at them in the knock-out stages.

Despite losing 1-0 to Guangzhou Evergrande at the Tianhe Stadium on Tuesday, Sydney were assured of pole position in the group as the Urawa Red Diamonds could only muster a 1-1 draw at home to the Pohang Steelers.

Brandon O’Neill, Sydney’s gritty midfielder, could not help but show his satisfaction at finishing at the summit of the group.

“We thought we’d have to be at our best just to get out of the group but to top it is a massive achievement,” O’Neill said.

“If we continue to play the way we’re playing, especially against the top teams in Asia that we’ve played against, we can now match it with anyone.

“We’ve done Sydney proud and Australia proud.”

To provide context to Sydney’s feat, Group H contained three former AFC Champions League/Asian Club Championship victors. Pohang won the tournament in 1997, 1998 and 2009. Guangzhou won it in 2013 and 2015. And Urawa were victorious in 2007.

Sydney’s coach Graham Arnold was disappointed with the outcome on Tuesday but satisfied with the manner in which the young side he selected performed, pointing out that he now finds himself in a predicament as to what his best 11 on the continent is.

“They’ve given me a few headaches. I wanted those headaches probably two months ago but they didn’t give them to me then,” Arnold said.

“Aaron Calver was outstanding, Brandon O’Neill, Riley Woodcock did well. Young George Blackwood, [Chris] Naumoff and [Andrew] Hoole. A lot of youngsters out there so when you look at that, the future is bright for Sydney.”

Sydney now face Shandong Luneng in the last-16. The Chinese Super League outfit are ripe for the picking. They scraped through in Group F and are struggling in 12th place in their domestic competition.