Preview: Gamba Osaka v Melbourne Victory
This is a major test for Melbourne Victory first up against a quality side which finished second in the J-League last campaign.
Date: Tuesday March 1 Kick-off: 7:00pm local, (9:00pm AEDT) Venue: Expo 70 Stadium, Osaka Television: Live and exclusive on Fox Sports 2
Head-to-head Played 2: Wins: Gamba Osaka 2
Previous Meetings Gamba Osaka 2, Melbourne Victory 0, Osaka, April 2008 Melbourne Victory 3, Gamba Osaka 4, Melbourne, April 2008
The Road to the ACL Gamba Osaka: 2010 J-League runners-up Melbourne Victory: 2010 A-League runners-up
Past five matches: Gamba Osaka: No matches in 2011
Melbourne Victory: Gold Coast United 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Skilled Park Adelaide United 2, Melbourne Victory 1, Hindmarsh Stadium Melbourne Victory 2, Newcastle Jets 0, Etihad Stadium Melbourne Victory 2, Gold Coast United 0, AAMI Park North Queensland Fury 0, Melbourne Victory 3, Dairy Farmers Stadium
Selection Key midfield duo Grant Brebner and Carlos Hernandez are absent for this match, meaning coach Ernie Merrick will likely to stick to a similar midfield to the one that took the field against Gold Coast a fortnight ago. Captain Adrian Leijer forms the base, with Tom Pondeljak, Marvin Angulo and Robbie Kruse used in attacking roles to support strikers Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp. Kevin Muscat replaces Petar Franjic in the middle of defence, while Surat Sukha and Matthew Kemp will fight for a pot on the left.
Little is known about how Gamba Osaka will line-up in their first serious hit-out of the season. But they have traditionally played 4-4-2 with danger man Yasuhito Endo providing the direction from a holding midfield role. Like most Japanese teams, they use their width well, with former international Akira Kaji particularly dangerous with his crosses into the box from the right. They boast a new-look strike force headed up by Brazilian Adriano and supported by young tyro Takashi Usami.
Analysis This is a major test for Melbourne Victory first up against a quality side which finished second in the J-League last campaign. Gamba Osaka, who won this tournament in 2008, are giants in Asia and boast a star-studded line-up.
The key for Melbourne Victory is to use the fact that Gamba are at the start of their campaign to advantage and press home the fact that they are at opposite ends of the preparation spectrum.
Melbourne may have bowed out at the first stage of the A-League finals, but their form at the tail end of their campaign was pretty strong. They are finally getting back their strongest team, having battled injury issues with major players for much of the year.
Muscat's return is significant in terms of leadership and defensive strength, while Adrian Leijer has proven very useful in his move to midfield. Leijer's role will be to try and negate the influence of Endo and launch Melbourne's counter attacks. With Thompson, Kruse and Allsopp in attacking roles, Melbourne boast plenty of speed and industry and will look to use the counter attack to create chance.
Gamba are likely to push on, allowing Victory to play their preferred game style and that appears their best chance of getting a good result here.
One point would do their hopes of progressing past the group stages the world of good, while three would be a sign of just how strong Melbourne could be in their campaign for Asian glory.
Squads Gamba Osaka 1. Yosuke Fujigaya, 2. Sota Nakazawa, 3. Kim Jong-Ya, 4. Kazumichi Takagi, 5. Satoshi Yamaguchi (vice-captain), 6. Takumi Shimohira, 7. Yasuhito Endo, 8. Hayato Sasaki, 9. Adriano, 10. Takahiro Futagawa, 11. Takashi Usami, 13. Kim Seung-Yong, 14. Shoki Hirai, 15. Hiroki Fujiharu, 16. Shohei Otsuka, 17. Tomokazu Myojin (captain), 18. Shota Kawanishi, 19. Kohei Kawata, 21. Akira Kaji, 22. Lee Keun-Ho, 23. Takuya Takei, 24. Kenta Hoshihara, 25. Shigeru Yokotani, 26. Yoichi Futori, 27. Hideo Hashimoto, 28. Shunya Suganuma, 29. Atsushi Kimura, 30. Tatsuya Uchida, 31. Kotaro Omori
Melbourne Victory: 1. Michael Petkovic (GK), 2. Kevin Muscat, 4. Petar Franjic, 5. Surat Sukha, 6. Leigh Broxham, 7. Matthew Kemp, 8. Grant Brebner, 10. Archie Thompson, 11. Marvin Angulo, 12. Roddy Vargas, 13. Diogo Ferreira, 14 Billy Celeski, 15. Tom Pondeljak, 16. Carlos Hernandez, 17. Matthew Foschini, 18. Danny Allsopp, 19. Isaka Cernak, 20. Sebastian Mattei (GK), 21. Robbie Kruse, 23. Adrian Leijer, 24. Luke Pilkington, 25. Luke O'Dea, 26. Nick Ansell, 27. James Jeggo, 30. Tando Velaphi (GK)