Tough ACL challenge ahead for Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory

Both Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory have created a little history this season by qualifying for the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League for the first time in their respective histories, and after poor A-League campaigns they’ll be looking to make even more history over the next two weeks by advancing to quarter finals.


Source: Getty Images

Sydney FC has travelled to China to take on Shandong Luneng, who knocked out Adelaide United in the qualifying playoff in February, and despite their poor Chinese Super League form – they’ve won just two of their first nine and sit 14th on the table – former Shandong Luneng defender Ryan McGowan says Sydney FC cannot take them lightly.

“I think this year they’ve sort of really tried to make an effort to not only make it out of the group but to give it a real crack to win the Champions League,” the Socceroos defender told The World Game.

McGowan played for the Jinan based club for two seasons in 2013 and 2014, so knows the club and its players well, and with his current side, Henan Jianye, playing Shandong in the CSL this coming weekend, he will be paying close attention to the match at the Jinan Olympic Sports Centre on Wednesday.


“They’ll be very low on confidence, there’ll be a lot of pressure on them,” McGowan said.

“If they lose at home to Sydney who’s out of season there’ll be big pressure on everyone at the club from the directors of the club to the players and the coach.

“From my point of view we’re hoping they play a strong team during the week against Sydney and play a little bit of a weaker team in the league and we can catch them out.”

Despite finishing in the top three in the league in eight of the last 12 seasons, their ACL form has been poor, making it out of the group stage only once in seven attempts since 2005. McGowan attributes this to their poor form on the road, with Shandong winning only six of their 18 matches on the road from 2007 to 2015.

“They don’t travel too well, that’s probably the main thing,” he said.

“They haven’t picked up enough wins away from home in the group stages. I think this year they went about it the right way, they won their first away game and won the next couple and the last game of the group stage they’d already qualified.”

At home they’ve only lost one of their last six, a 4-1 hammering at the hands of the ACL’s most in-form team, FC Seoul. The Sydney players can expect an intimidating atmosphere, according to McGowan, with the club averaging over 23,000 per game in the group stage.

While most of the attention while naturally be focused on Shandong’s international stars – including Gil, who has been selected in the Brazil squad for the Copa America Centenario, and former Argentine international Walter Montillo – Sydney also have to be wary of a couple of Chinese stars, including goalkeeper Wang Dalei and striker Wang Yongpo.

“I think the foreign players are very good and something Sydney need to look out for,” he said. “But obviously being a big club in China they’ve got a lot of national team players, I think they’ve probably got four or five national team players which makes a difference in China.”

For Melbourne Victory, they face a familiar foe in Jeonbuk Hyundai.

The South Korean side, who won the tournament in 2006 and were runners-up in 2011, are the most experienced ACL side on the continent and have only once failed to progress from the group stage in their nine campaigns.

Already with a strong squad, the two-time defending K League Classic champions added significant depth and strength to their squad over the off-season with the acquisition of the 2013 and 2015 K League Classic leading scorer Kim Shin-wook from Ulsan Hyundai, and the extremely talented Kim Bo-kyung, formerly of Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic. 

Throw in captain and the ACL’s all-time leading scorer Lee Dong-gook and midfield marvel Lee Jae-sung and it’s easy to see why Jeonbuk are considered one of the strongest teams in Asia and were one of the pre-tournament favourites.

While they’ve only lost one of their last 14 in all competitions, a surprise 3-2 loss to Vietnamese side Binh Duong in Vietnam, they haven’t yet hit top gear, which can be either a glimmer of hope for Victory or an ominous sign for their rivals.

One thing Victory will be looking to take advantage of is their relatively poor away form. Since the start of 2013 Jeonbuk has won only four of their 16 away matches, with their three away matches this campaign resulting in just one win and two losses.

Former Melbourne Victory defender Adrian Leijer, now with Suwon FC, told The World Game he believed Jeonbuk was a good match up for his former side.

“I think it’s a good draw for Victory because Jeonbuk, we played them in the last ACL in the group stage and we did well against them and should’ve had a penalty right at the death,” Leijer said.

“The K-League and the A-League are quite similar with their physicality and the pace of the games, so for Melbourne Victory I don’t think they have anything to be afraid of.”

Speaking at the pre-match press conference on Monday, Victory coach Kevin Muscat, who travelled to South Korea last week to watch Jeonbuk’s match against Suwon Bluewings, said his team was very confident at home where they’re unbeaten in their last nine ACL matches.

“It doesn’t come much bigger than Jeonbuk but we take a lot of confidence from the way we’ve played in the group games,” he said.

“We’ve put in some very good football, especially here at home we’ve had a very good attacking intent and scored some goals here at home so we look forward to tomorrow night against a good team.”

If both teams progress another slice of history could await in the quarter finals – the first ever all-Australian ACL tie. But for now the focus remains firmly on Shandong and Jeonbuk this week.

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Have a story or comment? Contact Us

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Watch nowOn Demand
Follow SBS Sport
6 min read
Published 16 May 2016 at 11:13pm
By Paul Williams
Source: SBS