ADELAIDE United skipper Eugene Galekovic farewelled his beloved Hindmarsh Stadium and his special band of fans probably for the last time in a Reds kit.
After nearly a decade at Adelaide, Galekovic, 35, has won it all for the Reds barring the AFC Champions League and it all points to the respected shot-stopper leaving United without the biggest prize in Asia.
Galekovic hardly had anything to do in this Champions League clash against Jiangsu Suning at Hindmarsh but his season along with his Reds teammates came to an abrupt end with coach Guillermo Amor also likely to have led side for the final time on the bench.
Adelaide needed to beat Jiangsu and hoped that Jeju United dropped points in the other Group H Champions League clash in South Korea to have any hope of qualifying for the round-of-16.
But Jeju ensured it held second spot to join Jiangsu in the next stage of the intercontinental tournament when it beat Gamba Osaka 2-0.
Adelaide’s result was irrelevant as the Reds crashed to a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss.
But with that Champions League exit also comes a lot of heartache with United potentially also seeing the bedrock of the championship side Sergio Cirio and Dylan McGowan for the last time.
Despite the melancholy of what was at stake post-match, the game’s upbeat theme was set early by Adelaide before Ji Xiang buried the only goal of the game with a brilliant 25m strike which sailed past Galekovic in the 81st minute.
Baba Diawara was a width of the post away from equalising when his brilliant header crashed into the upright and bounced out to safety four minutes later as United missed many, many chances.
United continually exploited Jiangsu via its attacking full backs Mark Ochieng and Michael Marrone with Adelaide’s quick ball movement in midfield unnerving the visitors but not unsettling the game plan as Jiangsu a times had six men in the last line of defence.
Riley McGree had the Reds first genuine chance to score when the game was 19 minutes old.
The Socceroo made all the right moves to create space for a shot but his 6m effort was blasted directly into the body of third-string gloveman Jain Hao who was making his debut.
Marrone then created two chances within the space of 60 seconds when he fired in crosses to Nikolas Mileusnic who fired his header wide from 5m before Cirio got his angles all wrong for a volley.
Mileusnic got in on the act a minute later when the game was 35 minutes old when he supplied a cut back for Baba who blasted the ball off target from 8m.
Then it was Kim Jae-sing’s turn to blast his 22m effort wide three minutes before the break before Jiangsu entered the dressing room clinging on by the barest of margins.
As news of Jeju United leading Gamba Osaka 1-0 at the break filtered through meaning if the score stayed that way Adelaide would be out of the Champions League regardless of the result, Adelaide started the second half conservatively for 90 seconds until McGree took the bulk by the horns.
The 18-year-old penetrated Jiangsu’s last line twice but Adelaide didn’t have any takers on the end of his great work.
Then it was Kim’s turn to supply Baba with a cross but the Senegalese couldn’t direct his 5m shot on target in the 54th minute.
But just seconds later Jiangsu fired an ominous warning sign on the counter attack but Yang Jiawei didn’t have any support for his cutback which had Galekovic on edge
Ji Xiang heading wide from a Zhang Xiaobin cross stunned the gallery in the 65th minute as Adelaide was becoming seemingly frustrated as Jiangsu’s last line held firm.
The Chinese started the clash with a vastly undermanned line up which was missing eligible stars Roger Martinez from Colombia and Brazilian Alex Teixeira.
To make matters even more daunting for the visitors none of the 16-man squad – Jiangsu could have named 18 on the official teamsheet – have scored in this season’s Champions League.
The Chinese started just six players from last Friday’s Super League fixture – a 1-1 draw with Yanbian Funde.
AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – GROUP H
Adelaide United 0 Jiangsu Suning (Ji Xiang 81m) 1 at Hindmarsh Stadium – Referee: Mohammed Abdulla Hassan (UAE) – Crowd: 6796.