Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Kawasaki Frontale
Central Coast is yet to notch its first win in Asia's premier club competition and it faces a tough task getting all three points at home against one of the best teams in Japan this Wednesday.
Date: Wednesday April 8 Kick-off (AEST): 8:00pm AEST Venue: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford TV coverage: Fox Sports 3 (Live)
Results so far: Central Coast: Central Coast 0, Pohang Steelers 0, Bluetongue Stadium, March 11 Tianjin Teda 2, Central Coast 2, Tianjin Teda Stadium, March 18
Kawasaki Frontale: Kawasaki Frontale 1 Tianjin Teda 0, Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium, March 11 Pohang Steelers 1, Kawasaki Frontale 1, Pohang Steelyard, March 18
Analysis: Central Coast is yet to notch its first win in Asia's premier club competition and it faces a tough task getting all three points at home against one of the best teams in Japan this Wednesday.
Kawasaki Frontale has finished runners-up twice in the J-League in the past three seasons and won the title back in 2004. Having made it through to the quarter finals of the Champions League in 2007, they boast substantial experience at this level and have put that to good effect with a win and a draw in their first two matches.
The Mariners form is hardly concerning and two draws have been a solid start to their inaugural campaign. But Lawrie McKinna knows his men will have to start winning matches if they are going to progress, especially the two remaining matches at home.
Striker Matt Simon misses this match through suspension but there is a ready-made replacement in Dylan Macallister. Adrian Caceres, who came off the bench to score in the second half in China, will start this time around with Dean Heffernan dropping back to defence, replacing Pedj Bojic, who is also suspended.
Ahmad Elrich continues his comeback from a knee injury and is likely to play some part of the game.
It is in defence where McKinna has admitted he has concerns and he will look to thwart a small but fast Kawasaki attacking force. They have two Brazilian strikers, Juninho and Vitor Junior, who oddly share the same birthdate some nine years apart, and North Korean star Chong Tese.
Chong Tese is in sparkling form having scored on the weekend in the 3-1 J-League win over Nagoya Grampus, a match in which Vito Junior also scored, while he played a major role in North Korea's controversial 1-0 loss to South Korea last week.
Japanese national players Eiji Kawashima, Shuhei Terada and Kenjo Nakamura will also line-up in a basically full-strength Kawasaki team.
The fact that nearly the entire Kawasaki playing list and staff have travelled to Australia is a sign of how well-resourced the J-League clubs are. With a massive travel budget, the visitors are not going to miss out on much and that makes it even harder for the Mariners.
Even including a gruelling trip to China, this is probably the biggest test for the Mariners. A win here and they are right on track for the second round, but a loss will put them under substantial pressure heading into the second half of the group stage. This will be a true test of character.