Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Pohang Steelers
Central Coast will be rewarded for consistency when it takes on Pohang Steelers at Bluetongue on Wednesday night in its first-ever AFC Champions League match.
Date: Wednesday March 11 Kick-off (AEST): 8.00pm AEDT Venue: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford TV coverage: Fox Sports 3 (Live)
Qualification: Central Coast qualified as 2007/08 Hyundai A-League premier Pohang qualified as 2008 Korean FA Cup winners
Analysis: Central Coast has earned a reputation as one of the most consistent sides over the four years of the Hyundai A-League and gets its reward for that consistency when it takes on Pohang Steelers at Bluetongue on Wednesday night in its first-ever AFC Champions League match.
The Mariners may have lost last year's Grand final but courtesy of finishing top of the table they find themselves in Asia's premier club competition against a club which has established itself as a powerhouse of Korean football. Pohang has won the K-League on four occasions, while a success in the FA Cup last year earned it a spot in this competition.
Pohang will be well familiar with A-League opposition having played against Adelaide United last year. The Koreans finished third in the group and lost to the Reds twice. A fifth-placed finish in the K-League last season saw Brazilian coach Sergio Farias push a very large broom through the club in the off-season and there are as many as 16 new faces in the squad.
Brazilian Denilson, who scored six goals last season, is joined by compatriot Brasilia, while the other international player is Macedonian Stevica Ristic. The club kicked off its K-League campaign on the weekend with a 3-2 win over K-League champions Suwon Bluewings, where both Denilson and Ristic scored along with former Chunnam Dragons midfielder Kim Tae-Su.
Central Coast bowed out of the A-League finals at the first stage having played some good football this season to make the playoffs. Lawrie McKinna has resisted making sweeping changes to his squad, but English defender Shane Huke and versatile former Perth midfielder Nick Rizzo have been drafted in while Adam Kwasnik returns after a season stint at Wellington. Ahmad Elrich is basically a new player having missed most of the A-League season through injury. Sasho Petrovski, who has moved to Newcastle, is the major departure.
The Mariners travelled to China to play a couple of warm-up games last week and while they lost both those games against Jiangsu Sainty (2-1) and Shandong Luneng (2-0), they would have learned plenty from the experience.