Sydney FC boss Graham Arnold hopes to exploit Shandong Luneng’s defensive frailties in Wednesday night’s AFC Champions League last 16 first leg clash in China.
In the club’s biggest ACL clash in their history, a fresh and fit Sky Blues are confident of an away win after defying the odds to top their qualifying group.
Arnold flew to China early to watch Shandong play over the weekend, a 0-0 draw with Changchun Yatai.
It was a rare clean sheet for the Chinese side, which had conceded nine in their four games previous to that and are languishing in third last on the CSL ladder.
And Arnold senses an opportunity for his side to pounce on Shandong’s defensive struggles and continue to make history for the Hyundai A-League club.
“I’ve seen enough footage of Shandong and Chinese football to see we have a very good opportunity here. It’s important to seize it because an opportunity like this doesn’t come along too many times in your life as a footballer,” Arnold told reporters on Monday.
“They [Shandong] have had some defensive issues in the last few games. Besides the weekend, they’ve been conceding quite a lot of goals and I’ve seen enough to see where we can expose them hopefully and it will be up to us to take our chances.
“Our defensive side of our game has been fantastic in the six games of the Champions League and the defensive side needs to be that good again.
“We want to put in our best performance, these are the biggest games in the history of Sydney FC in the Asian Champions League and the boys are excited to perform on Wednesday,” the Sky Blues boss added.
Arnold says while the side hasn’t had a competitive game for three weeks, they’ve taken the opportunity to mentally freshen up the squad for the round of 16 ties over the next week.
In contrast Shandong have played three matches over the last week and have injury concerns over star Brazilian forward Diego Tardelli, who is battling a hamstring problem.
“Hopefully he won’t play but he’s a very, very good player,” Arnold said of Tardelli.
“But they are still a very good side. Gil the Brazilian international central defender holds their backline together.
“The two Chinese internationals, goalkeeper Wang Dalei who people [in Australia] will remember saved the penalty [in the Asian Cup] when he asked the ball boy which way he should go, he’s one of their star players.
“And Yang Xu is a big central striker who is also a name known to a lot of Chinese people back at home.
“We’ve got a tough assignment ahead of us. It’s the first of two tough games and when we come back home to Australia for next week, we need to have a good result here to make that second league more deal able.”