Melbourne Victory boss Carlos Salvachua says winning their opening game of their AFC Champions League Group Stage is crucial for his side’s prospects of progressing in the competition.
With the Victory sitting out the next round of the Hyundai A-League with a bye, Salvachua’s side now focus on two fixtures on the continental stage, commencing with Tuesday night’s clash in Melbourne against Thailand’s Chiangrai United.
The Victory reached Group E of this year’s competition, which also features FC Seoul and Beijing Guoan, on the back of strong showings in qualification matches that have stood in contrast to their erratic returns in domestic competition this season.
The Victory demolished Bali United 5-0 in their first play-off match last month before following it up with an upset 1-0 win over J1-League powerhouse Kashima Antlers in Japan a week later – their first ever away win in continental competition.
Those results are the only wins for the Victory since Salvachua took control of the side from previous coach Marco Kurz in early January, after taking just one point from their last four matches in the Hyundai A-League to fall six points adrift of the Finals Series race.
However, Salvachua says he feels his side can now capitalise on their opportunity to resurrect their season through the Champions League - but only if they get off to a winning start tomorrow night.
“We are stopped now in the A-League for two weeks and now we are focusing on the Champions League starting tomorrow,” he explained.
He added: “It’s really important [to win against Chiangrai] because we know how difficult it is to travel to Korea or travel to Thailand – you have to pick up three different flights to go to Korea.
“Of course this is not easy, but [this game] is the opposite for the other teams and it is really important we start by winning at home.”
Salvachua said he expects a tough challenge from a Chiangrai United side that won last year’s Thai League One title and eager to make their mark in their maiden Champions League Group Stage appearance.
“They did really well last year in Thailand. They won four finals last year – that means they are a winning team,” he explained.
“They are tough playing in big games and for sure they want to start winning in Australia in the first round. But we want the same. We want to start winning tomorrow in front of our fans at AAMI Park.”
However, despite his side’s inability to crack a win for over a month in the Hyundai A-League, the Victory boss feels the level of opposition his side has faced will have his team in good stead.
“We tried to play with our style but in front with have big teams and now, talking about the A-League, we were playing against [Melbourne] City, Sydney and Perth – they are in their best moment now in the competition.
“It’s true they are no less or more quality than the Chinese or Thai or Japanese teams but they are in a good moment.
“Now tomorrow we have to try to be protagonists and try to adapt to the style of Chiangrai and try to win the game.
“Every game is different and every competition is different but it is the same at the end – the focus is ninety minutes tomorrow.”
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The Victory will be without the injured Robbie Kruse for their upcoming games, which will see the Victory travel to Seoul next week, while new recruit Marco Rojas is yet to hit full match fitness.
Salvachua said there is the opportunity to look to younger players in his squad through the competition – including defender Benjamin Carrigan and midfielder Anthony Lesiotis, who featured in last Friday’s Melbourne Derby.
“I think it is important of course for everyone to understand the youth players are now part of the team. We know it is not easy for them but we need games as well if we are to play with any of them in the future in the next years,” he said.
The Victory have only ever advanced once beyond the competition’s Group Stage in seven previous campaigns – when they were eliminated by Korea’s Joenbuk Motors in the Round of 16 in 2016 under Kevin Muscat.
AFC Champions League - Group E
Melbourne Victory v Chiangrai United
Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
Tuesday, February 11
Kick-off: 7:35pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: FOX Sports 505
Click here to buy tickets