Sydney FC midfielder Brandon O’Neill believes the Sky Blues have a golden opportunity to create more history after their 1-1 first leg away draw in the AFC Asian Champions League Round of 16 against Shandong Luneng.
David Carney opened the scoring for the Sky Blues after 15 minutes, in which they claimed a crucial away goal, but much to Sydney’s dismay Brazilian Diego Tardelli equalised 10 minutes into the second half.
Coach Graham Arnold got his wish, as he said pre-game he wanted a 1-1 draw as opposed to a goalless draw.
O’Neill spoke to the Daily Football Show on Thursday and was oozing of confidence for his side as they travel back to Allianz Stadium next Wednesday to take on Shandong for the second time.
“We were disappointed we didn’t win. I think that said it all in the performance,” O’Neill said.
“We stuck to our task, we were disciplined and got the early goal.
“Even when conceded in that second half we still pushed, tried to get the winner and it’s set us up perfectly now on our second leg at home to finish up the job.
“It was a massive confidence booster, travelling back home knowing what we’re up against at Sydney on Wednesday night.
“Shandong is a very good team, they’re very well organised, they try to hit you on the break and it was good we dealt with everything they tried to throw at us.”
With the fact Sydney underperformed in the A-League, much of the criticism was directed at their style of play and how effective and entertaining the football was.
The 22-year-old, who came from Perth Glory last season, said he saw a significant difference in the draw away to Shandong and had vast faith they could make it to the next stage.
O’Neill also admitted this was his most enjoyable footballing season in his career, despite the club not making finals, he made a big statement about what the Sydney cohort had to offer.
“When we attacked we felt like we kept the ball in longer periods than we had in previous games, we felt like we could open them up and it was a really positive sign that we know Shandong aren’t unbeatable,” he said.
“If we can tick all those boxes like we did traveling to China, get a massive support from our loyal supporters, I think we can definitely qualify for the quarter-finals.
“It’s been my most enjoyable season to date and to make the A-League finals would have been the icing on the cake for me personally, but I can speak for all the young lads at Sydney FC, we’re in the best environment in Australia.
“We have the best staff looking after us and we’re very privileged to be involved at such a great club.
“We never ask or want anything because everything’s always given to us.”
As the Champions League quarter-finals will be played in August and September, there is a challenge for the Australian clubs to maintain match fitness as there is almost a three month break from high intensity football.
The J.League, K-League and Chinese Super League all go throughout August, but O’Neill drew evidence from Western Sydney Wanderers’ ACL success in 2014.
“Western Sydney proved it’s doable, we have to think no differently and keep a positive outlook,” he said.
“If we do qualify for the quarter-finals then I’m sure our fitness team at Sydney FC will do everything to get our players fit, firing and raring to go for the quarters.”