ACL Preview: Victory must conquer Cannavaro’s Guangzhou as Oscar and Hulk arrive in Sydney
It is crunch time in 2019 AFC Champions League for Hyundai A-League clubs Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.
The two Australian sides are currently bottom of their respective groups, and must topple a pair of Chinese Super League giants to get their continental campaigns back on track.
We take a look at the challenge that awaits on Wednesday night, in what is looming as a decisive moment in the season for the Sydney and Melbourne clubs.
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Honda magic needed to crack Cannavaro’s water-tight Guangzhou
Kevin Muscat’s Victory must consign the pain of Saturday’s last-ditch Big Blue defeat to the past ahead of Wednesday's (10.00pm AEST) huge encounter with Guangzhou Evergrande in Group F.
But it is not going to be easy against two-time continental champions Guangzhou, who have been firing on all cylinders domestically under legendary Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro.
Guangzhou have yet to concede a single goal in four Chinese Super League matches under the ex-Real Madrid and Juventus superstar, with their 3-1 loss to ACL newcomers Daegu FC on matchday two (March 12) the only blot on their defensive copybook all season.
The Chinese giants also boast a two-pronged Brazilian threat in on-loan Barcelona lynch-pin Paulinho and dangerous attacker Talisca, who scored both goals in a 2-0 derby triumph over Guangzhou R&F on Saturday.
The brilliant Brazilians each found the net in Evergrande’s 2-0 opening Group F win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima back at the start of March.
“They’ve got some very good players that we’ll have to come up against. But the good thing about coming to games like this is you get to test yourself against some of the strongest teams in Asia,” said James Troisi, who scored a memorable 91st-minute goal in Victory’s famous 2-0 upset over reigning-champions Guangzhou back in April 2014.
“We go into every game wanting to win. There’s no shying away from it, we definitely need a result.”
Victory would do well to heed their star midfielder’s words – the Melbourne side are bottom of Group F after defeats to Daegu (3-1) and Sanfrecce Hiroshima (2-1) and will need a repeat of that famous upset from five years ago to get hopes of progression burning once more.
How it stands - Group F
Can Sky Blues kick on from Big Blue against Shanghai stars?
Former Chelsea midfielder Oscar and ex-Porto thunderbolt-specialist Hulk headline the star-studded Shanghai SIPG side Sydney FC must tackle to keep their Group H tilt alive in Wednesday's 7.30pm AEST kick off.
Sydney commenced their Asian campaign with a 0-0 draw against Ulsan Hyundai on matchday one (March 6) before going down 1-0 to Kawasaki Frontale (March 13), results which have left the Harbour City club bottom of the standings.
Steve Corica’s side mustered just two shots at goal in matchday two’s narrow loss to Frontale, so the firepower of strikers Adam Le Fondre and Reza Ghoochannejhad, as well as the artistry of Big Blue match-winner Milos Ninkovic, will be required if the Sky Blues are to stage an upset.
Shanghai SIPG sit second in the Group H table having opened their account with a 1-0 win over Kawasaki and lost to Ulsan Hyundai by the same scoreline in matchday two.
Vitor Pereira’s side have scored more Chinese Super League goals (11 in four matches) than anyone else, and with the power of Hulk, Oscar’s guile and the cutting edge of fellow Brazilian Elkeson, the Sky Blues must contain their visitors' impressive attacking arsenal in order to get their campaign back on track.