Our Road to the AFC Cup Final

Our AFC Cup journey began on September 20th, as we entered our first campaign back in Asian competition since 2015.

Little did anyone know the twists and turns, incredible adventures and memorable victories that would occur over the following 7 months, seeing us go all the way to the AFC Cup Final.

With the decider taking place in the early hours of Monday morning against Lebanese side Al Ahed in Muscat, Oman, let’s take a trip back through memory lane for a recap of our remarkable AFC Cup run.

Group Stages

It was a tricky start to the Group G for your Central Coast Mariners, with a tough trip away to Terengganu FC on the menu.

Despite dominating the majority of the first half in hot and humid conditions, we were unable to find the back of the net, with an own goal just before the break handing the home side a 1-0 victory.

That would be our last loss of the entire tournament to date, as Mark Jackson was officially appointed our Head Coach before our first home game of the competition.

Stallion Laguna from the Philippines was our opponent, with the Mariners running away 9-1 victors on the night. A hattrick from Marco Tulio headlined what is the biggest ever win by a Central Coast Mariners side.

A 6-3 result against Bali United at home did not come without its challenges, with the away team showing glimpses of promise despite being convincingly defeated.

Next up was the away leg to Bali, with a vocal group of over 100 Mariners fans making the trip to cheer us on in the away bay. A smart finish from Alou Kuol and a tidy penalty from Marco Tulio sealed the sweep against the Indonesian side, a 2-1 victory to push us top of the group.

Welcoming Terengganu back for the home fixture proved to be a battle, as the Malaysian team opened the scoring. Despite pushing strongly for an equaliser the away side held firm, until 18-year-old Miguel Di Pizio secured us a point late on off the bench with his first ever senior professional goal.

With our fate in our hands heading over to The Philippines, in difficult afternoon conditions on a poor synthetic playing surface, we were able to grab a 3-0 victory, securing us top spot in Group G and progression into the knockout stages.

Knockout Stages

For our first game of the knockout stages, we were drawn at home against Cambodian side Phnom Penh Crown, who were the highest ranked second place finisher in the ASEAN Zone.

Having defeated Macarthur in the Group Stages, the away side went into the game with confidence, however a second half hat-trick off the bench from Ryan Edmondson saw us grab a 4-0 win and safe passage to the ASEAN Zonal Final against Macarthur FC.

Travelling down to Campbelltown, a late goal in regulation time for both sides meant that extra time was required. Lachlan Rose gave the home side the lead in the 92nd minute, before Doka scored an extraordinary goal from distance to level the scores heading into the final 15 minutes.

It was another Brazilian who ended up being the hero on the night, with Ronald Barcellos firing us to victory in the 120th minute. That result seeing us crowned as ASEAN Zonal Champions, with the Inter Zonal Semi-Final just around the corner.

Indian side Odisha FC, featuring former Mariner Cy Goddard and former Wellington Phoenix forward Roy Krishna, were drawn as our opposites, with the Mariners being the home team for the first leg. Goals to Storm Roux, Ronald Barcellos and a double from Mikael Doka gave us a 4-0 lead after the first leg, and after a nil-all draw in the second, it was onto the Inter-Zonal Final.

Kyrgyzstan team Abdysh-Ata Kant stood in our way of an AFC Cup Final place, with the first leg taking place in their capital, Bishkek. After over 24 hours of travel the game ended 1-all, with Brian Kaltak’s goal cancelled out by a late stoppage time strike.

Flooding in Dubai meant that we had to stay an extra couple of days in Kyrgyzstan, before heading through Seoul in South Korea to get back home.

After a tight and tense opening 75 minutes at home, cometh the moment, cometh the man. Needing a goal to send us through to the Final, Miguel Di Pizio did just that, scoring his third goal for the club in the 77th minute.

Another strike from Doka before Di Pizio’s double sealed a 3-0 win on the night, and a 4-1 win on aggregate to book our ticket into the AFC Cup Final.