While it’s the players from Western Sydney Wanderers FC and Al Hilal that will take centre-stage for the AFC Champions League finals second leg on Sunday morning (AEDT), the influence of the managers will be absolutely crucial.
Tony Popovic and Laurentiu Reghecampf are proving themselves exceptional young coaches and the driving forces for their teams’ charge to the title.
The tactical battle between these two will be fascinating. As will their preparations leading into the weekend.
How does Reghecampf ensure his side don't get hit on the break and concede a hammer-blow away goal? What can Popovic do to shut out the returning Yasser Al-Qahtani and the Al-Hilal strikeforce?
These and more questions will be answered on Sunday morning AEDT in the AFC Champions League final second leg in Riyadh.
Name: Tony Popovic
Playing career: Sydney United 1989-‘97, Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1997-‘01, Crystal Palace 2001-‘06, Al Arabi 2006-’07, Sydney FC 2007-’08, 58 caps for Australia 1995-‘06
Teams managed: Westerns Sydney Wanderers FC 2012-now
Honours as coach: A-league Premiers’ Plate 2013
It can’t be understated the job Popovic has done with the Wanderers.
When he was first appointed to the role the club had no name, no colours and no players.
But in less than three years he has helped mould the Wanderers into not only a powerhouse of the Hyundai A-League but within 90 minutes of being crowned Asia’s best.
A truly remarkable effort.
While the players deserve a lot of the credit, they are being superbly guided by their mentor.
The traits of Popovic’s side are very similar to the way he liked to play the game himself throughout his 19-year professional career.
They are tough, uncompromising, give their-all and do everything with intensity and quality.
Anyone who has played under Popovic raves about his meticulous planning and attention to detail.
It was evident in the first leg as the Wanderers executed the game plan to perfection, absorbing pressure in the first half but hitting back in the second and getting the goal when on top.
Popovic has already garnered interest from former club Crystal Palace about one day coaching the EPL club and if he can guide his side to victory this weekend, there will be a few more big clubs taking notice.
Name: Laurentiu Reghecampf
Playing career: Chindia Targoviste 1993-’96, Steaua Bucuresti 1996-’00, Energie Cottbus 2000-’04, Alemannia Aachen 2004-’08, 1. FC Kaiserslautern 2008-’09, 1 cap for Romania 2003
Teams managed: Gloria Bistrita 2010, Universitatea Craiova 2011, Concordia Chiajna 2011-2012, Steaua Bucuresti 2012-2014, Al Hilal 2014-now
Honours as coach: Romanian League 2013 and ’14, Romanian Supercup 2013
What you see is what you get with Reghecampf.
The Romanian is confident, brash and straight to the point, which is what you need to be in charge of one of Asia’s richest and most ambitious clubs.
Reghecampf was poached by Al Hilal after he guided previous club Steaua Bucuresti to back-to-back league titles in Romania.
He was recruited on a $2.5million deal with one job - to land the club the Champions League crown.
While he has – so far – held up his end of the bargain, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the ex-Romanian international.
Reghecampf copped a lot of stick in Riyadh because of his wife Ana Maria Prodan, who has been photographed nude in Playboy and has a love of tattoos. Not exactly things that are popular in the Middle East nation.
But he has managed to ride out the storm and is just a solid home performance away from clinching the club their third continental title.
As Aussie fans saw in the first leg last weekend, Reghecampf likes his teams to attack and they will undoubtedly throw everything at the Wanderers at the King Fahd International Stadium.
It’s that football and their run to the final that has made him a popular figure at the club but that could all change if they don’t get the right result on Sunday morning.
The Wanderers face Al Halal in their away leg of the AFC Champions League final on Sunday morning, with the match being broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 1 and 1HD from 3.55 am (AEDT).