Tony Popovic faces the media after the AFC Champions League match against Kawasaki Frontale.
A brave Western Sydney Wanderers fell agonisingly short against Kawasaki Frontale in their AFC Champions League Match Day 4 game on Tuesday night.
Looking for a third straight win that would have virtually sealed a spot in the knockout rounds, Tony Popovic put out the exact same starting XI that defeated Kawasaki 1-0 at Parramatta Stadium less than two weeks ago.
It was an intense opening to the match with a particular ebb and flow immediately obvious. Absorbing pressure from the home team, the Red and Black were comfortable in defence while hitting on the counter time and again.
With the Wanderers having scored in the first, third and tenth minutes of their previous Champions League matches, they have a habit of leading early and tonight was no exception with their game plan working to a tee when a counter-attack led to a corner.
Dean Heffernan-s delivery evaded the goalkeeper and found the head of Labinot Haliti who guided the ball into the back of the net for his second successive Champions League goal.
Under pressure from a number of opposition defenders Haliti still managed to connect with the ball; looping it just under the crossbar to send the substantial away support into raptures.
The second half started much the same way as the first but as the clock wore on Kawasaki-s pressure increased while Red and Black counter-attacks became less frequent.
Chances were still few and far between for the home side and when Antony Golec-s goal line clearance denied a rare Kawasaki opportunity it felt like it was going to be the Wanderers night.
Until, that was, a cruel twist of fate for the centre back who impressed all night.
With Kawasaki legend Kengo Nakamura latching on to a wide through ball in the box, Golec anticipated well and got in a position to defend a cross.
Unfortunately for the Wanderers latest signing, when he did the right thing in blocking Nakamura-s cross, the ball skidded off his leg and flew past a wrong-footed Covic into the net.
Buoyed by their stroke of luck, Kawasaki pushed on further but with the Wanderers still dangerous on the counter-attack a stalemate looked likely.
Matthew Spiranovic was on to bolster the midfield while Brendon Santalab and Shannon Cole were introduced to bring spark and grit out wide.
But with barely two minutes left in the contest Ryota Oshima put Kawasaki ahead through a long-range missile with Ante Covic powerless to save having been unsighted until late.
Despite the best attempts by the Wanderers to snare a late goal, none better than Tomi Juric-s brilliant effort to beat his marker one-on-one before delivering a tantalising cross into the box, Kawasaki came out victors and in doing so ensuring the race for the two qualifying spots will go down to the wire.
Kawasaki Frontale 2 (Nakamura Kengo 74- Ohshima Ryota 88-) Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Labinot Haliti 24-)
KAWASAKI FRONTALE: 21: Nishibe YOHEI (GK), 3. Tanaka YUSUKE, 5, JECI, 7. Nakazawa SOTA, 9. Morishima YASUHITO, 10. RENATO, 13. Okubo YOSHITO, 14. Nakamura KENGO (C), 15. Taniguchi SHOGO, 16. Ohshima RYOTA, 19. Moriya KENTARO (20. Inamoto JUNICHI 90-+2)
Unused Substitutes: 1. Sugiyama RIKIHIRO (GK), 2. Saneto YUKI, 6. Yamamoto MASAKI, 17. Takeoka YUTO, 27. An Byong JUN, 34. PAULINHO
Yellow Cards: n/a
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS: 1. Ante COVIC (GK), 5. Michael BEAUCHAMP (C), 7. Labinot HALITI (2. Shannon COLE 81-), 9. Tomi JURIC, 14. Kwabena APPIAH (11. Brendon SANTALAB 87-), 18. Iacopo LA ROCCA, 21. Shinji ONO, 22. Dean HEFFERNAN, 23. Jason TRIFIRO (13. Matthew SPIRANOVIC 65-), 33. Daniel MULLEN, 35. Antony GOLEC
Unused Substitutes: 20. Jerrad TYSON (GK), 6. Jerome POLENZ, 10. Aaron MOOY, 17. Youssouf HERSI
Yellow Cards: Iacopo La Rocca 35- Dean Heffernan 59-