Sydney FC 0 – Deportivo Sasprissa 1
| The Campsie Hotel was a sea of sky blue. The mood, until the 47th minute, was buoyant. The plates of food were most welcome. The occasion was memorable. |
The result, frankly, sucked.
Legitimate complaints about a number of decisions, including the ludicrous expulsion of Alvin Ceccoli for an ultimately innocuous challenge on the Saprissa keeper, filled the air as the Cove faithful filed out of their traditional away game watering-hole at 11:30 p.m.
The night had started far more auspiciously, with our heartening recent win over the Tards playing itself out on the plasma screens as the plates of spring rolls and fruit travelled around.
Over in Nagoya, the players lined up before the kickoff looking distinctly uncomfortable in the cold conditions; Pierre Littbarski was later to be seen blowing his nose during the first half, much to the amusement of the Cove. Mark Milligan, playing only his third game since his return from injury, looked particularly apprehensive.
After his fine showing in central defence against Melbourne, Milligan retained his place there; the team, in fact, was otherwise unchanged. The presence of Kazu and Petrovski again meant a midfield role for Dwight Yorke, one in which he has shone in recent weeks.
To the relief of many Covers and to the disappointment of the more maliciously-minded, Littbarski had left his brown suit at home for the occasion. This was not the only sartorial alteration for Sydney FC – a hastily-applied patch covered the Hyundai A-League logo on their shirts…
Sydney started off in fine fettle. In the second minute, an early ball out from Bolton following a Saprissa free kick began a slick move, which resulted in Carney whipping a dangerous ball across goal. Two minutes later, a clever pass under pressure from Kazu presented Yorke with a chance.
Saprissa rallied briefly, bringing Clint Bolton into action twice in the first ten minutes, once from a deflected free kick from Azofeifa. From the ten-minute mark onwards, however, Sydney FC dominated proceedings.
A fine cross-shot by Petrovski in the 13th minute was saved, and another low cross from Carney soon afterwards caused much concern in the Saprissa defence. Kazu and Yorke both had goal-bound shots blocked, following free kicks, towards the mid-point of the half. Saprissa, relying primarily on the long ball, looked overawed and short of ideas.
A brief cutaway to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s controversial president, drew sustained boos from the Campsie, but the FIFA supremo was full of praise for Sydney FC after the game…and given their first-half performance, it was easy to see why.
Just gradually, the momentum began to shift. With Drummond full of running on the right and the muscular Gomez proving something of a handful for the Sydney defence, Saprissa held their own for the rest of the half. Although Yorke and Petrovski both created half-chances towards the close, the teams were battling on roughly level terms when the break arrived.
Saprissa came out of the tunnel with renewed self-belief, and for the first ten minutes of the second half, they enjoyed a period in the ascendancy. Unfortunately, unlike Sydney in the first half, they ended up with something to show for it…
The Costa Rican side’s tactic of trying to catch our flat back four napping almost paid off immediately after the restart, with Gomez judged (correctly) offside after he had put the ball into the net following a punt upfield. Sydney failed to heed the warning, and only a minute later it was the adventurous left-sided player, Bolanos, who snuck in front of Packer, connected with another long ball, and finished neatly.
A simple, disheartening goal to concede.
Bolanos almost caught the defence out again on 52 minutes, but Bolton – having another superb evening between the sticks – was there to cover. A few minutes later, Carney, boxed in by the corner flag, took off on an amazing infield run which ended in a shot blasted into the side netting.
On the hour mark, however, Sydney were clearly getting nowhere, and Littbarski, contrary to his custom, made two changes; John Buonavoglia came on for Terry McFlynn, while Mark Rudan – always a threat at set-pieces – took Andrew Packer’s place, forcing Milligan onto the right side of defence.
Although not immediately effective, the substitutions did eventually give Sydney their second wind; Saprissa had made their intentions for the rest of the evening very clear, with endless long balls and considerable wasting of time.
Ceccoli, breaking out of defence, saw his cross headed just wide by a nervous Saprissa defender in the 73rd minute, as Sydney regained control. As more blue shirts moved forward, however, there were occasionally dangerous breakaways; one, in the 78th minute, involved a string of Saprissa passes followed by a heavy final touch from Bolanos, which allowed Bolton to claim the ball.
On 81 minutes came the big talking-point. An underhit backpass from a Saprissa defender obliged the keeper, Porras, to rush out for the clearance; Ceccoli, on the edge of the area, came to contest the ball. Porras got there first, and Ceccoli’s raised studs made minimal contact with the keeper’s boot on the follow-through.
A red card? You must be joking.
That was certainly the sentiment of the Campsie Covers, and not without reason. If we had expected any favours from the Japanese referee due to the presence of Kazu, we were sorely disappointed…Saprissa were the benficiaries of many poor decisions throughout the evening.
In the final ten minutes, Sydney forced a succession of corners, all of which came to nought; meanwhile, Bolton was called upon to perform more heroics at the other end as a series of Saprissa breakaways – one involving a three-on-one attack – were foiled by our outstanding gloveman.
After a richly-deserved yellow card for Porras for time-wasting and a brief delay while Petrovski, bleeding from a challenge in the box following yet another corner, was taken off for treatment, the whistle sounded. A sad end to Sydney’s first foray into international competition, but they can be justly proud of their performance for the first half-hour, and the fight they showed in the final ten minutes. Al Ahly, watch out.
Sydney FC: Bolton; Packer (Rudan), Milligan, Fyfe, Ceccoli; Carney, McFlynn (Buonavoglia), Yorke, Corica (Zdrilic); Petrovski, Kazu.(Zdrilic).
mikey @ syndeyfc-unofficial.com