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Soccer-Wanderers will come back stronger, says Popovic

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SYDNEY, May 6 (Reuters) - Tony Popovic said his Western Sydney Wanderers would be stronger for the experience of a "difficult" six months after the champions made an early exit from the Asian Champions League (ACL) on Wednesday.

Since becoming Asian champions, Wanderers have had their playing resources stretched to the limit by trying to balance the demands of an appearance at the World Club Cup, the domestic season and their ACL title defence.

They finished sixth out of seven teams in FIFA's showpiece club tournament in Morocco, second bottom of the A-League and on Wednesday bowed out of the ACL before the knockout stages.

They at least went out fighting, beating Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande only for FC Seoul to pip them to the second qualification spot for the last 16 from Group H by edging Kashima Antlers 3-2 with an injury time winner.

"In November we were crowned Asian champions, we deserved that crown," manager Popovic told the post-match news conference.

"We had a tough period in the A-League from November. We can talk about a small squad going to Morocco and coming back, it's been difficult. But we, as a club, will be better for this experience.

"When you have adversity, it can destroy you or make you stronger and everyone will see a stronger Wanderers next year."

Guangzhou coach Fabio Cannavaro, with his team already assured of a spot in the ACL knockout stage for the fourth straight season, fielded a weakened side for the fixture at a rain-soaked Tianhe Stadium.

Popovic said his own squad had also been weakened by injury and suspension and that should not detract from a victory over the 2013 Asian champions earned by goals from Mark Bridge and Tomi Juric.

"It's a strange feeling to sit here and be disappointed after beating Guangzhou 2-0 but that's who we feel at the moment," he added.

"The other result didn't go our way. To win against a great club, great team shows we were certainly worthy champions of this competition and we are bitterly disappointed not to go through.

"But in terms of our performance in this game tonight, we showed why we belong in this competition and we'll work very hard to get back where we belong." (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ian Ransom)

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