Melbourne Victory seek destiny as Thompson and Co say farewell for final time

11-07-2018 by admin

Melbourne Victory’s strong home record in the Asian Champions League gave them the chance to make history by qualifying for the last 16 for the first time.

And if Kevin Muscat’s side is to go any deeper into the continental club championship it will need to make the most of its home advantage in the first leg of its round of 16 tie against South Korean powerhouse Jeonbuk Motors on Tuesday night.

Victory took seven points out of a possible nine in their three group games, with wins over Shanghai SIPG and Gamba Osaka and a draw with Suwon Bluewings, a K-League rival of Jeonbuk.

While the sort of triumph that could make the second leg academic is too much to hope for at AAMI Park, Muscat will at the very least want his team to contain the dangerous Jeonbuk attack and shut down their midfield as well as put pressure on their defence.

Given the nature of ACL knock-out soccer, where away goals count double, it is essential for Victory’s hopes that they keep Jeonbuk scoreless in this match. In many ways it would be far better to win 1-0 than 2-1. Certainly a 0-0 draw would be better than a 1-1 stalemate for the hosts.

Quite how easy a task that will be is open to question. Jeonbuk, who have won the last two K-League titles, scored 13 goals in their six group matches.

But they do give teams a chance at the back, as their tally of nine goals conceded in those half-dozen games shows. On only two occasions did they keep a clean sheet, and in a game against the Vietnamese club Becamex Binh Duong they conceded three in a 3-2 loss.

Before the Gamba game – which was a must-win fixture – emotion hung heavy in the air as everyone knew it would be Archie Thompson’s last match in Victory colours if the team did not progress.

Victory prolonged Thompson’s farewell, but this game really will be his last appearance for the club in front of its own fans, as it will be for the retiring Matthieu Delpierre and Kosta Barbarouses, who is moving to Wellington in the off-season. All three will be long gone by the time the quarter-finals take place in August, if Victory do indeed get that far.

Still, Muscat says the emotion of the occasion is not that important as all the players know they have a job to do.

“We have trained well … we had an opportunity after the last game to make sure everyone got to peak health and fitness. It’s been competitive.

“A lot of the work has been done now. I have an unbelievable attitude to this … my attitude has changed [from when he was a player]. We are taking the competition far more seriously as a nation, we are starting to create some special nights [in the ACL].

“You can sense the public are treating it in that manner. We want to create some more history.

“It’s been the longest farewell [for Thompson] but we want it to go on for the next couple of weeks.

“When you go out there, there is only a clear focus. There’s been no talk of those things after training [the emotion of last games and the enormity of the occasion]. We are trying to do things as best as possible.”

Captain Carl Valeri echoed the “business as usual” message even though for him, a man who has missed much of the season through illness, the importance of these post-season games cannot be underestimated.

“We want to go further and it will start tomorrow night. I have to put myself aside,” said Valeri.

“They [Thompson, Delpierre and Barbarouses] are professionals, it’s what they have done for a living. I have not seen Archie do anything different [in training], it’s the same for Matthieu and Kosta.

Muscat identified Jeonbuk’s Brazilian import Leonardo, an attacking midfielder, and their veteran former Korean international striker Lee Dong-gook as the biggest threats.

Leonardo spent several seasons with top Greek club AEK Athens and was the club’s top scorer in the 2011/12 season before moving to Jeonbuk.

Lee is now 37 and has played more than 100 times for the Korean national team, the Taeguk Warriors.

He has had a distinguished career and not just at home. He spent time with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga and Middlesbrough in the English Premier League as a younger man.

“I went across to Korea last week to watch their game against Suwon. They are a good team especially in the front third. They are very fast in transition. Lee Dong -gook is an exceptional player,” Muscat said.

“They are very structured and disciplined when they don’t have the ball, they rely on Leonardo, Lee Dong-gook to hold the ball up and their wide players.”

The fact that Victory’s A-League campaign finished a month ago and they have only played one competitive game, against Gamba, in recent weeks, does not concern Muscat.

He says training has been intense and all the players are up for the challenge that awaits them.

“We can’t wait for the challenge. It doesn’t come much bigger than Jeonbuk. We take a lot of confidence from the way we play. There have been some very good performances in the group games. We have had some very good attacking intent,” Muscat said.

“They are a good team but if there was any concern about having a long period between games it’s been dispelled in the lead-up to this game.”

Muscat is envious of one thing, however – the fact the K-League was prepared to re-arrange a Jeonbuk game so as to ease their preparations for the trip to Australia.

“It’s not easy to travel in this competition. I dare say that this is the first time that Jeonbuk have had to travel here in this tournament [this season] and the seriousness of that travel was shown when they got their K-League game postponed to give them a perceived opportunity to be successful.”

*Victory and Jeonbuk have met in the ACL before, in 2014. The two teams drew 0-0 in Melbourne and 2-2 in Jeonju. That season the two clubs tied for second place in the group but Jeonbuk went forward because their goal difference of plus one was better than Victory’s goal difference of zero.

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