Popovic refuses to give up on ACL campaign

Western Sydney Wanderers FC coach Tony Popovic is refusing to believe Tuesday’s defeat to Kashima Antlers is a dagger-blow to their AFC Champions League title defence.

The Wanderers led 1-0 at half-time but conceded in stoppage-time to lose 2-1 at Parramatta Stadium on Tuesday night and drop to the bottom of their group.

If they are to make the last 16 the Wanderers must beat group winners Guangzhou Evergrande in China and hope the Antlers and FC Seoul draw.

A big ask but not impossible for the reigning Asian Champions, according to Popovic.

"I never doubt any game that we can win, that will be no different (against Guangzhou)," the Wanderers boss said.

"If we doubted ourselves, we wouldn't have won the Champions League last year. We showed (on Tuesday) how good we can be but we haven’t been able to punish sides like last year.

"We go to Guangzhou, we have to believe we can win. A difficult task? Yes, of course.

"We picked up three suspensions (on Tuesday night) as well, which doesn't help when you've got a small squad.

"But we'll just try and get a few bodies back and make sure that we give ourselves a chance over there."

Nikita Rukavytsya’s goal midway through the half looked to have the home side on course for a crucial win at a rain-soaked ‘Wanderland’.

But they wilted badly after the break.

Doi equalized for Kashima midway through the second half before Kanazaki broke Wanderers' hearts in stoppage time.

“The first half was good - we had some good opportunities to go further in front but we didn’t take them,” Popovic lamented.

“I was always concerned we didn’t take those chances.

“The second half we weren’t in the game. We were poor and the difference was they took their chances. Conceding that late was disappointing and it was a soft goal.”

Compounding matters for the Wanderers is the fact they will be without defender Yusuke Tanaka, striker Kerem Bulut and midfielder Kearyn Baccus for the last match through suspension after each picked up another yellow card on Tuesday night.