Can Brisbane break down Buriram United?
One year ago it would have seemed unthinkable the Roar would have any trouble with a Thai Premier League side.
Can Brisbane Roar beat Buriram United? A year ago it would have seemed unthinkable for the A-League champions to lose to a Thai Premier League side.
But such has been the fall from grace for Mike Mulvey-s outfit that the single-leg AFC Champions League playoff against the reigning Thai FA Cup winner on February 13 could pose a few problems.
First things first, exactly who are Buriram United?
Like so many sides in Thai football their history is a convoluted one, beginning in 1970 in Bangkok when the club was founded as the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) before a subsequent move to the central Ayutthaya province.
Despite winning the championship for the first time in 1998 and again a decade later, it wasn-t until 2010 that PEA became a genuine force in Thai football.
That-s when powerful politician Newin Chidchob took over the club and moved the team to his Buriram province stronghold, changing the name to Buriram United in 2012 in the process.
Chidchob-s wealth helped Buriram claim an unprecedented treble in 2011 when the club won the Thai Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup in the same season.
They weren-t quite as successful the following year, finishing a massive 30 points behind Robbie Fowler-s champions and fellow powerhouse Muangthong United, however a second successive FA Cup title means Buriram will face Brisbane at the New I-Mobile Stadium for a place in the ACL group stage.
And with the Roar giving up the right to play the fixture at home, they could be in for an uncomfortable evening against a Buriram side not exactly lacking in talent.
One man who knows all about Buriram is former Thai Port and TTM Phichit assistant coach Nathan Hall, who at just 27 is one of the youngest Australians to ever coach overseas.
“As a team they are very sharp, technically gifted, circulate the ball nicely and have excellent penetration going forward,” Hall said.
“Theerathon Bunmathan - one of the best left backs in Asia with his dynamic forward runs - will be one to look out for,” he added.
Indeed, Buriram are laden with top-class Thai talent, including a couple of names who should be familiar to Australian fans, Surat and Suree Sukha.
And with some decent foreign talent on their books, including Spanish midfielder Osmar, unpredictable former Nagoya Grampus attacker Igor Burzanovic and French striker Goran Jerkovic, it is clear Buriram will be far from pushovers.
What will hurt the club from close to the Cambodian border is the fact that the Thai Premier League has been on hiatus for months.
The new season doesn-t kick off until March, meaning Buriram has been forced to play a series of friendlies in the build-up to the playoff in a bid to keep sharp.
Worse still for the provincial side, they have just lost two of their best players to European clubs.
Ghanaian striker Frank Acheampong and Cameroonian front man Frank Ohandza recently joined Belgian club Anderlecht and German side Greuther Fürth on loan respectively, highlighting the calibre of players currently wearing the Buriram shirt.
All that could spell trouble for Mulvey and his side, who will travel to a humid Thailand for a sudden-death clash sandwiched between important A-League fixtures.
If the Roar wish to take part in their second successive AFC Champions League campaign, they-re going to have to qualify the hard way after the Asian Football Confederation reduced the number of spots given to Australian sides.
Adversity on the Asian front is something A-League clubs are just going to have to get used to, with the ACL still resembling a competition crudely shoehorned onto a vast continent of various competing interests.
“All-in-all, if Brisbane is positive from the outset and takes the game to Buriram, they have a good chance,” Hall said of the Roar-s bid to qualify for the ACL group stage.
A confident enough prediction, but no doubt far less confident than it might have been some 12 months ago.