Cornthwaite backs Wanderers for ACL title

Korea-based Australian Robbie Cornthwaite believes Western Sydney Wanderers can lift the AFC Champions League title and sees a lot of similarities with the Adelaide United side he was part of which reached the 2008 final.

When it comes to Wanderers’ upcoming ACL semi-final with K-League champions FC Seoul, few have more insights than Cornthwaite as a Korea-based player and former continental finalist with the Reds.

The 28-year-old Chunnam Dragons defender reflects on Adelaide’s 2008 run to the final, where they lost to Gamba Osaka, as the highlight of his career.

Back then, Adelaide topped a group featuring Korean giants Pohang Steelers, before knocking off then-Japanese champions Kashima Antlers and Uzbek powerhouse Bunyodkor on the road to the decider.

Cornthwaite during United's amazing 2008 ACL run

Having spent four years in Korea and witnessed Seoul first hand, Cornthwaite believes Wanderers can continue on a similar run and potentially go all the way in Asia.

“I see a lot of similarities from when I was with Adelaide in 2008,” Cornthwaite told FourFourTwo reflecting on Wanderers, who are only the second A-League club to reach Asia’s final four.

“It’s like you’re almost untouchable when you’re riding this wave, everyone’s behind you, the fans are coming to the airport, you’re full of confidence.

“You’re almost fearless and you’ve got nothing to lose, because everyone expects you not to make it into the next round. There’s no pressure, you’re playing with freedom.

“The Wanderers will look back on this like I did in 2008. It’s the best time in your career, you’re travelling away, you’re a tight-knit group and everything’s going right.

“I hope it continues for them and they can go one better than we did.”

Wanderers’ opponents Seoul are the reigning Korean champions and lost last season’s ACL final to Guangzhou Evergrande. However, that’ll hold no fear to Wanderers, who toppled the Chinese powerhouse in the last round.

Seoul currently sit fifth in the K-League, but it must be noted they started the season woefully and have recently enjoyed a major form resurgence, having lost just once in their past 20 matches.

Cornthwaite was an unused substitute when Chunnam drew 2-2 with Seoul in July but says they are a vastly improved built around a strong backline.

“The defence has been one of their strong suits over the last couple of months,” Cornthwaite said.

The beanpole defender points to Spanish defender Osmar Barba and experienced Korea international Cha Du-Ri as keys to their rearguard.

He also notes Colombian striker Mauricio Molina as a major threat, whose return to the first team has coincided with the form surge after being out of favour at the start of the campaign.

However, Cornthwaite believes Wanderers coach Tony Popovic has the right approach to bringing down Korean, and Asian, opposition.

“The biggest advantage for Australian teams in Asia is organisation,” he said.

“In Asia they rely heavily on their marquee players and their foreigners. They are often the difference in the league, but when they come up against a team which is well-drilled and organised, who know their jobs, they can struggle.

“As long as Western Sydney stick to Popa’s structures, they are in with a chance.”