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Kevin Muscat doesn’t like Asia.
Not the sprawling region which is so culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse it’s difficult to pin down where it begins and ends, but rather the AFC Champions League.
Muscat doesn’t like the travel, he doesn’t like the schedule and most of all, he doesn’t like the amount of diving those pesky Chinese, Koreans and Japanese partake in – even if most of the players who tumble inside the box have conspicuously Brazilian names.
In case anyone was left in doubt as to just how Muscat feels about the Champions League, he candidly expressed his opinions in the wake of Melbourne Victory’s scoreless draw at home to Chinese champions Beijing Guoan last week.
“To be honest, playing in Asia is not all that enjoyable,” Muscat told Fox Sports after the match, which saw Victory exit the Champions League group stage with a whimper.
“People going down left, right and centre, stalling for time, it’s not that enjoyable playing in the Champions League,” said the Victory skipper – who perhaps wisely opted not to canvas Adelaide United for their opinions, since the South Australian club are top of their group and have already qualified for the knock-out stage.
The contrast between Melbourne and Adelaide’s fortunes is stark, with the latter looking to reprise their superb run to the 2008 Champions League final, despite the fact that coach Aurelio Vidmar was informed at the start of the campaign that his AFC coaching credentials were not up to scratch
Vidmar’s assistant coach Joe Mullen was named the team’s “head coach” for the tournament, but it’s still Vidmar unofficially calling the shots, and the pair have conjured some impressive results so far – including a first-up win over defending Asian champions Pohang Steelers.
Claims that the Champions League has failed to capture the imagination of the Australian public appear to be wide of the mark – at least in Adelaide – where a capacity crowd should turn out for United’s final group stage game against Shandong Luneng.
Despite United finishing bottom of the A-League last season (they’re in the Champions League thanks to results from the previous campaign), crowds have continued to flock to their compact Hindmarsh Stadium home, which has become somewhat of a fortress for the South Australian side.
While Adelaide’s form in the Champions League has been impressive, concerns remain over just how much of an impact Australians side can have on the continental competition.
United may have reached the final in 2008, but they were thumped 5-0 on aggregate by a rampant Gamba Osaka, and the following season South Korean side Pohang dished out a brutal 6-0 thrashing of Newcastle Jets in their one-off Round of 16 clash.
The Champions League is still very much a work in progress, and the sheer scale of the region has forced the Asian Football Confederation to split the competition along geographical lines until the quarter-finals.
If Adelaide can overcome the might of East Asian football in the Round of 16, they may then find the likes of Saudi giants Al-Hilal, popular Iranian club Esteghlal or the Luiz Felipe Scolari-coached Uzbek side Bunyodkor standing in their way.
Kevin Muscat has no such concerns, with the 36-year-old veteran weighing up his options ahead of a testimonial at Melbourne’s new “rectangular stadium” on May 14.
Love him or loathe him, the Victory skipper is always good for a quote, and those who lambasted him for speaking his mind on the Champions League are usually the first to complain about censorship in the Australian game.
No doubt Muscat will have plenty to say ahead of his big night, as he reflects on a twenty-year career that has seen the tackles fly in across three different countries.
There’ll be a job waiting for him at his beloved Victory if he does decide to retire, but for the sake of Australia’s relations with it’s Asian neighbours, let’s just hope that no one asks him about the AFC Champions League.
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The biggest problem for Kevin is that the refs actually expect him to be in the vicinity of the ball when he makes his "challenges", hence ruling out 90% of his normal game.
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