Popovic: ‘I couldn’t be more proud’

Melbourne Victory Head Coach Tony Popovic has lauded his team for their gutsy effort in last night’s 4-3 extra-time loss to Vissel Kobe.

With a Champions League spot on the line, both clubs threw everything into the match across a gripping 120 minutes.

Popovic was full of praise for his squad.

“It was a wonderful performance, I couldn’t be more proud of what we did for our football club, for our league in Australia,” he said post-match.

“We’re disappointed we didn’t go through but we’ll reflect and realise we played a very good match.

“We don’t have the squad depth or resources of Vissel Kobe, but what we have is players who give everything and did everything they could to win the match.

“In the end, it could’ve gone either way. We’ll go home disappointed but very proud of the performance.”

Matt Acton played his first game of the season between the sticks while Rai Marchan and Matt Spiranovic both returned from lengthy injury layoffs.

Popovic rolled out three central defenders for the first time since taking the reins at Victory in a move that almost proved a masterstroke.

“We haven’t played three in the back in the league but we felt tactically, it could be a good system for us,” he said.

“We also had players playing their first game in six weeks, so it was an opportunity to help them as well.”

Popovic says his whole squad’s commitment was first class.

“We were very fatigued in the last 10-15 minutes and in extra-time. I feel the players from Vissel were physically better and that was the difference in the end.

“At 2-3, we showed fantastic spirit to comeback with a fantastic goal.

“In the end, we played the best we could, the players gave everything.

“We wanted to go the Champions League and we believed we could. We showed we were very close but in the end the freshness and extra bit of quality Vissel have showed.”

Victory will return home to prepare for Saturday night’s Melbourne Derby against City at AAMI Park.