WE knew from the moment we beat Gold Coast United in last season’s preliminary final to qualify for the 2012 AFC Champions League that the back end of this season would be a challenge.
WE knew from the moment we beat Gold Coast United in last season-s preliminary final to qualify for the 2012 AFC Champions League that the back end of this season would be a challenge. Meticulous planning started immediately after the off-season kicked in!
The 2011/12 A-League season was being brought forward, meaning the ACL campaign would start in-season. Should we back up last season with consistency and be challenging for honours - which has proven the case - we were hopeful we would be dealing with A-League games with potentially premiership-winning points up for grabs, ACL games (home and away) and A-League finals games.
I-m delighted to say all of the above has proven correct.
The first adventure arrived this week with an away trip to Tianjin in China.
An hour after snatching a point at the death against Sydney FC at Bluetongue Stadium it was onto a bus to Sydney Airport to stay overnight. By the time we got there and hit the pillow it was 1am. Wake up calls were booked for 5am to be at the airport for the early morning flight to Beijing via Hong Kong.
On arrival in Beijing (after some 15 hours in transit so far) it was on to a bus for the 2.5 hour drive to Tianjin. Lights out at 3.30am Sydney time - a long, long day of travel was now behind us and preparation proper for our first ACL game could begin at sun-up.
From a barmy 25C at Bluetongue Stadium 48 hours before we woke to -1C in Tianjin on Monday morning. Training late afternoon was in falling snow as we became familiar with Tianjin Teda Football Stadium.
Upon our return to the hotel we met with our travelling supporters - among them TV personality George Negus - for a pre-dinner catch up. The players and staff really appreciated the effort our supporters made to be there. The trip, we knew, was not an easy one.
The following morning (Tuesday) was our second and final training session leading into our opening ACL clash with Tianjin Teda. The boys looked sharp and focussed. Coach Graham Arnold went through a tactical session to ensure everyone knew their roles.
Game day came and went in a flash - the 0-0 result ensuring we made a strong start in Group G.
Thursday morning our attention turned immediately to Perth Glory in Perth on Sunday. The players recovered, the coaches planned.
The return bus trip to Beijing was followed by another full day of travel today (FRI) to get to Perth. Saturday is training - the one and only session to prepare for the third last game of the regular Hyundai A-League season.
The temperature in Perth is in the high 30C - very different to the sub-zero conditions in Tianjin just a couple of days ago.
It-s a challenge alright - but one we are facing head on with glee!