Weary Wanderers earn Popa's praise

Tony Popovic says his leg-weary Wanderers continue to defy the odds after Tuesday's night's ACL draw with FC Seoul, a result that’s left their hopes of progression in Group H hanging in the balance.

The Wanderers held to a 1-1 draw by the Koreans at Parramatta Stadium as Go Yo-Han’s second half strike cancelled out Kerem Bulut’s opener.

Reflecting on the draw with FC Seoul on Tuesday night, Popovic said: “We totally dominated the first half, and it was pleasing to see we can do that at this level.

“Although we won (the ACL) last year, it shows how much the group is evolving.

“We controlled the tempo and were very good – the only disappointment is not going in three up at half-time.

“Then fatigue set in for us, we’re down on numbers, down on options to come on. They’ve (FC Seoul) got some very dangerous players as it shows and in the end we didn’t lose.”

Popovic’s main focus between now and the Kashima clash will be on re-energising his weary squad and getting some of his injured stars back on deck.

Both Nikita Rukavytsya and Matthew Spiranovic are both currently sidelined through injury while skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Labinot Haliti are showing signs of wear and tear after long campaigns.

"We're hoping Spira will be back and maybe a couple more will be back. The key is not to lose any more in the meantime," Popovic said. 

"Nikolai was pretty much on one leg the whole game and has been for the last few games and that shows you what a champion he is that no one can notice that.

"You've got Labinot who's got maybe a little hamstring complaint.

“You’ve got players coming back from injury and playing full games when they shouldn’t be. But they keep defying the odds these players."

It’s left Group H wide open, with the Wanderers and FC Seoul (both five points) and Kashima Antlers (three points) fighting it out to progress with leaders Guangzhou Evergrande on nine points.

Popovic’s troops face a must-win clash against Kashima at Wanderland in a fortnight and may also need to get a result away to Guangzhou on the final day to advance.

"It is the toughest group by far and we've known that from the start," Popovic said.

"There'll be a lot more twists and turns and if we can recover a few more bodies by the next game and play like we did in the first half we'll be confident playing against Antlers that’s for sure.

"If we win that game then of course we put ourselves in a fantastic position."

The Wanderers turn their attention to Hyundai A-League matters now with a trip to Gosford to meet Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night.