Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC will be Australia’s representatives at this year’s Asian Champions League, following Newcastle’s elimination in the play-off round.
Both have featured regularly in recent seasons, however have not progressed past the round of 16 stage. The addition of international players such as Ola Toivonen, Adam Le Fondre and Siem De Jong will give the two a boost for the competition, while they have also utilised Asia very well, signing big names such as Keisuke Honda and Reza Ghoochannejhad. Despite this, it will not be an easy task in Asia’s premier club competition.
Let’s see who Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC will be coming up against:
First up in Group F, the A-League champions will host South Korean side Daegu FC. Daegu finished in seventh place in last season’s K-League and are led by manager Andre. Their squad features lots of homegrown players, while a handful of Brazilians and Japanese midfielder Tsubasa Nishi make up the foreign players. Dario Junior, Edgar and Cesinha all will cause havoc for the opposition, while goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo has 11 caps for South Korea and has played 172 matches for the club. The Victory will travel to Daegu Forest Arena on 8 May.
The Melbourne side will then travel to Japan to play Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Hiroshima Big Arch. It was a strong season for Sanfrecce in last year’s J1 League, finishing the year in second place. It will be a reunion for the Victory, with striker Besart Berisha playing for the Japanese side. Centre-forward Patric will be a threat up front, while former IFK Goteborg and Halmstads BK defender Emil Salomonsson will offer stability in defence. Captain Toshihiro Aoyama has made 390 appearances for the club, while vice-captain Yoshifumi Kashiwa has played 156 club matches. The two will play in Melbourne on 22 May in the final matchday.
Melbourne’s final opponent is a big one and one of the favourites for the competition, who finished last year’s Chinese Super League in second place. The Tianhe Stadium will play host to Melbourne Victory and Guangzhou Evergrande, who have an array of stars. Highlighting the squad is former Tottenham and Barcelona midfielder Paulinho, while former Benfica and Besiktas player Talisca has been likened to Brazilian legend Rivaldo. English defender Tylas Browning joined the club in February, while long-serving Gao Lin, who also has 109 caps for China, will have an impact. In fact, quite a few of Fabio Cannavaro’s squad play for the Chinese national team. The two have faced off before in this competition, when they met in Group G in the 2014 edition. On 23 April, the Victory will host the Chinese giants.
It will be a harder task for Sydney FC in Group H, who first up host South Korean club Ulsan Hyundai at Jubilee Oval. Ulsan came third in last season’s K-League and qualified for this competition by defeating Malaysian side Perak in the play-off stage. Their squad is predominantly made up of homegrown players, however they have a couple of foreign players of note. Former New York City midfielder Mix Diskerud is at the club on-loan, while Dutch defender Dave Bulthuis plays in defence. Forward Lee Keun-ho has 84 international caps, while Kim In-Sung was previously at CSKA Moscow. The return leg will take place on 7 May at Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium.
In matchday two, the A-League premiers will travel to the Todoroki Athletics Stadium to face Kawasaki Frontale, the 2018 J1 League champions. Several quality Japanese players are in the squad, such as captain Yu Kobayashi and Shogo Taniguchi. Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao will provide firepower up front, while South Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong has plenty of Asian Champions League and international experience. Overcoming the J1 League champions will be a daunting task for the Sky Blues, however anything can happen in football. The return leg will be played on 21 May.
Sydney will not miss out on hosting international stars, with Chinese giants Shanghai SIPG coming to town on matchday three. Last season’s Chinese Super League winners are led by Portuguese manager Vitor Pereira, who has had experience at clubs such as Olympiakos, Porto and Fenerbache. Their squad features several world class players, with former Chelsea attacking midfielder Oscar, physically strong forward Hulk and fellow Brazilian Elkeson all running out for the team. Uzbekistan midfielder Odil Ahmedov, who has played for Anzhi Makhachkala and Krasnodar will be a threat for the opposition and is a valuable member of this already impressive squad. Goalkeeper Yan Junling has been at the club since 2007, while defender Shi Ke has made nine international caps for China. The Sky Blues will travel to Shanghai Stadium on 23 April in their away leg.
It will be both a difficult and interesting challenge for the Australian sides in this season’s Asian Champions League. Unlike in the A-League, they will face off against squads with international superstars and clubs with consistent quality players that deliver in Asia. Both Victory and the Sky Blues need to go into these matches with respect for their opposition, however they also need to show no fear, especially against the Chinese clubs with multiple big names. In the past, the two have defeated both Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG and it is possible that it can happen again. They have also matched it away from home against other sides and it will be interesting to see whether they can progress to the knockout rounds.