• Melbourne Victory players celebrate a goal (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Melbourne Victory may not know who their next full-time coach will be but at least they know who they will face in their 2020 AFC Champions League playoff next week.
By
John Duerden

16 Jan 2020 - 11:00 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2020 - 11:00 AM

It is Bali United and it should be a cracker. It should be the biggest game of Victory’s season so far and it should act as an incentive to get a new man in sharpish.

The biggest club in Australia should be flying the flag for the A-League in the biggest club competition in the biggest continent in the world. It’s that simple.

The tournament may have its faults but it remains the only way that Aussie clubs can connect with the rest of Asia on the pitch.

Interestingly, just as Victory are without a coach, United have two. Bali failed to provide the AFC with the correct documentation to show that boss Stefano Cugurra is qualified to coach in the competition. 

The Brazilian, who led Persija Jakarta to the 2018 title before moving to Bali and doing the same there, is in charge of domestic matters while Emral Abus, a little-known coach in the country, usually coaches other matches.

He performed the same role for Persib Bandung in 2015, stepping in to help with continental commitments.

Cugurra will make the trip to Australia and won’t be far from the action to give the visitors double the tactical know-how.

It was needed on Tuesday. Any Victory scout in Singapore would have enjoyed an entertaining game as Tampines Rovers took on Bali in the preliminary play-off. 

The Indonesian visitors raced into a 2-0 lead but then found themselves 3-2 down.

A late equaliser took the game into extra-time and then Bali scored twice more to win 5-3. The reward for the large contingent of away fans who made the journey to Singapore and made it feel like a home game for the visitors, is a trip to Australia.

If only the game was two-legged, or at the very least, played at the home of the team from the lower-ranked member association.

Imagine a game at Bali’s stadium for away fans. The traffic on the island is bad and getting worse, leaving a scooter as the fastest mode of transport.

Arriving there on a warm evening and seeing a full stadium, smelling that sweet southeast Asian air and then listening to the non-stop songs and chants of the home support, it is an away day that any football fan should try.

But when it is your team playing there in an international competition (and there is a direct, if lengthy, path that links these play-offs to the FIFA Club World Cup) then it would be unmissable.

And fans would also be able to see what real passion for the tournament looks like. If Bali were at home for this game, the 23,000 capacity stadium would be fuller than any yoga studio in nearby Ubud. 

As champions of Indonesia, arguably the most passionate football nation in Asia, Bali should be in the group stage automatically anyway especially as they won the title by ten points. The more teams from Southeast Asia, the better as they the bring passion, colour and excitement that the competition needs.

They also bring quality and Melbourne need to be careful. Playing a Southeast Asian team at home is no gimme as Brisbane Roar found out in 2018, falling to a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Ceres-Negros of the Philippines.

Bali are looking forward to what they see as a huge game and this ambitious club would love nothing more than to represent Indonesia in the group stage.

Stefano Lilipaly is one of the best attacking players in Southeast Asia and scored one goal and made two in the win over Tampines, Melvin Platje has scored goals in the top tier of the Dutch league and is a lively and mobile focal point in the 4-2-3-1 formation, showing his class with a spectacular chip to put Bali ahead last week.

Experienced goalscorer Ilija ‘Spasogoal’ Spasojevic should be back for next week as United, who do leave gaps at the back, give everything they have.

Bali are battle-hardened at the end of a long season. They are not that tired after taking their feet off the pedal in the final games in December with the title already won.

Sharp, rested and focused - with two coaches to Melbourne's Carlos Salvachua - the Indonesians, and the Champions League, should be taken very seriously by Victory.