It would have been a fantastic opportunity for Trent Sainsbury to return home to Australia to take on Melbourne Victory in the knockout stage of the 2016 AFC Champions League.
With just 20 minutes remaining in the final game of the group stage on April 4, the Chinese Super League team was heading for the last 16. Thanks to goals from Alex Teixeira and Jo, Jiangsu was leading Jeonbuk Motors 2-1 and poised to take top spot in Group E.
Then Lim Jong-eun popped up at the far post to side-foot a well-worked corner into the net from close range. As hard as Dan Petrescu's men tried, they could not get the goal that would have meant a long trip to Melbourne next week.
“It is a difficult situation to wrap your head around,” said Sainsbury who played on that roller-coaster of a night at Jeonju World Cup Stadium.
“We didn't lose the game away to the Korean champions and pushed them all the way.”
“It was shattering and felt like defeat. The team really believed we deserved to go through but that's football, sometimes you need luck.”
For the Socceroo star, heading home for a few days would have been welcome and not just for personal reasons. “ It would have been nice going back to Australia to play and gauge where our team is at compared to a solid Melbourne team. Its a difficult trip going all the way to Australia from any country.”
Instead then it will be Jeonbuk Motors travelling down under. No team has played more matches in the tournament than the 2006 continental champion, who have won the last two K-League Classic titles. And no coach has more continental games under his belt than Choi Kang-hee.
“Jeonbuk is a good team. Their strength is how organised defensively they are from front to back. Its very difficult to play through their team.” There is hope for Melbourne however. “Their back four for me is the weak link in their line up. If exposed with no cover in front of them they are vulnerable.”
Sainsbury was impressed with Jeonbuk's winger Leanardo. “He is sharp and quick. He likes to cut inside and create chances for others.”
Korea Republic international Lee Jae-sung also caught the eye.
“He is also a very tidy player who can control the game.”
And now for the big question. Who does the Australia international expect to progress to the quarterfinal?.
“I think that in Melbourne, [Victory] are going to win or, at worst, draw. Jeonbuk will be in season focusing on league games. In Korea its a different ask all together. Melbourne will push them all the way but I think Jeonbuk will prevail.”
Sainsbury will be watching with interest in Nanjing where he is settling in well. “Jiangsu is great. I'm here with my partner and dog so we are always looking to get out and about. I'm discovering new and exciting things to see and do in the city on days off.
There is one silver lining to Asian elimination, The club can focus on winning a first Chinese Super League title. “I think we can win it this year with some luck. Next year will be the biggest test for us when we are expected to do well in all cups and competitions we enter.”
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