Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic insists his side are worthy reigning Asian champions despite bowing out at the group stage of the 2015 edition.
Wanderers’ AFC Champions League exit was confirmed on Tuesday night despite a 2-0 win over big-spending 2013 ACL winners Guangzhou Evergrande.
The reigning champions were eliminated with the other matchday six game in Group H not going in their favour as FC Seoul won 3-2 at Kashima Antlers.
“To win against such a great club and great team and to do it so well, shows we are certainly worthy champions of this competition,” Popovic told reporters.
“We’re bitterly disappointed not to be going through.”
He added: “It’s a strange feeling to sit here and be disappointed after beating Guangzhou 2-0 but that’s how we feel at the moment.”
Despite Wanderers’ 2014 ACL triumph, the club endured a miserable 2014-15 A-League season which yielded just four wins and saw the club finish second last.
Skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley told FourFourTwo that the 2014-15 campaign was “the most difficult and testing season of his career”.
Popovic reiterated Topor-Stanley’s sentiment but vowed it would strengthen the club moving forward.
“In November we were crowned Asian champions and we deserved that crown,” Popovic said.
“We had a very tough period in the A-League from November. We can talk about a small squad going to Morocco, coming back, it’s been difficult.
“We, as a club, will be better for this experience. When you have adversity it can destroy you or make you stronger.
“Everyone will see a stronger Wanderers next year.”
Striker Mark Bridge pointed to the club's poor home record in the ACL, where they collected just one point, as a key reason for their premature exit.