Mariners in final pitch for Asian glory
Tomorrow at Pohang’s impressive Steelyard Stadium, the Central Coast Mariners’ maiden AFC Champions League quest will be either extended or extinguished, but there is genuine hope and belief amongst the yellow and navy travelling party that it will be the former.
Tomorrow at Pohang-s impressive Steelyard Stadium, the Central Coast Mariners- maiden AFC Champions League quest will be either extended or extinguished, but there is genuine hope and belief amongst the yellow and navy travelling party that it will be the former.
The equation is a simple one for the Mariners - anything less than three points against the mighty Pohang Steelers tomorrow afternoon will put an end to the Mariners- ambitions of progressing to the knockout stages of the tournament.
However, should the Mariners record the three points that they so desperately crave, the yellow and navy-s chances of securing a Round of 16 berth will be increased no end and would set up an enthralling Match Day 6 encounter against Tianjin Teda at Central Coast Stadium.
Firstly though, it is Match Day 5 and the challenge of Pohang that awaits the Central Coast, whose destiny on the continent will be decided one way or another from 1pm local time tomorrow.
The seemingly bizarre Tuesday afternoon kick off time has been tailored to what is a national holiday in the Korea Republic for Children-s Day, with many families from the 500,000-strong Pohang population expected to swell the Steelyard audience to over 10,000 tomorrow.
Temperatures in Pohang at present are not dissimilar to what the Mariners have been experiencing on the Central Coast of late, with mild conditions of around 26°C anticipated by kick off.
Boosting the Mariners- chances against the K-League heavyweights will be a pair of new faces - National Youth League graduates Matthew Lewis and Nathan Sherlock, each of whom have been included in a Mariners AFC Champions League squad for the first time.
Lewis is capped at senior level following his cameo appearance off the bench in the final round of the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 campaign, while Sherlock has been drafted in as a late replacement for injured midfield ace Adrian Caceres.
Along with Caceres, injured striker Nik Mrdja has remained on the Central Coast with suspended duo Nigel Boogaard and Matthew Osman, though the Mariners are otherwise unchanged from the line up that performed so honorably in Kawasaki a fortnight ago.
"The nerves of the boys are fine - they know what they-ve got to do," said Mariners Football Manager Lawrie McKinna.
"We did alright against them in the first game and we should have won that game.
"We know what to expect, they-ve not conceded a lot of goals but not scored a lot of goals either but it-s going to be a hard game.
"We-re due for some luck to go our way and I feel as though it will tomorrow night and we-re looking forward to the game."
The Mariners- quest for their first win in Asia will see them again take on an opponent of considerable stature in Asian club football terms.
The Pohang Steelers are twice winners of the AFC Champions League and one of only four clubs to win back-to-back continental trophies since the inauguration of the competition in 1985.
In addition to their success in Asia, the Steelers are one of the powerhouse clubs belonging to Korea-s K-League, with their second Korean FA Cup success in late 2008 the latest of their six major domestic titles, which also includes four K-League championships since 1986.
The previous and only meeting between the Mariners and Pohang resulted in a 0-0 stalemate at Central Coast Stadium on an occasion where the visiting Steelers unveiled their gallery of talents, including well-travelled Brazilian strike pairing Denilson and Brasilia, FYR Macedonian international Stevica Ristic and a host of former or current Korea Republic national team contributors.
Most recently, Pohang recorded a 0-0 draw away to Daejeon Citizen in their local K-League, where they occupy ninth place from a field of fifteen after eight rounds.
The stalemate in Daejeon was Pohang-s third goalless encounter in Korea or Asia since early March and during such time, the Steelers have only registered two wins from eleven attempts - form that will give the Mariners some confidence ahead of tomorrow-s do or die fixture.
"It-s make or break, we-ve had four AFC Champions League games and we-ve had three good performances but one very bad one and everyone remembers the very bad one," said McKinna.
"We need to get back to the do or die attitude that came back into our performance in Kawasaki and should we win on Tuesday, it sets up a great experience against Tianjin at Central Coast Stadium in a fortnight.
"It can definitely happen and there have been signs suggesting that it can happen but it has been a long time since we-ve won as everyone keeps reminding us.
"If we win tomorrow night, a lot of the other results are forgotten about and it would be great to then go on to beat Tianjin and go to the Round of 16."
Central Coast Mariners Squad
2. Andre Gumprecht, 3. Shane Huke, 4. Pedj Bojic, 5. Bradley Porter, 6. David D-Apuzzo, 7. John Hutchinson, 8. Dean Heffernan, 11. Dylan Macallister, 15. Andrew Clark, 18. Alex Wilkinson, 19. Matt Simon, 20. Danny Vukovic (gk), 21. Ahmad Elrich, 22. Nick Rizzo, 23. Adam Kwasnik, 25. Nathan Sherlock, 27. Matthew Lewis, 30. Andrew Redmayne (gk)
The Mariners- inaugural AFC Champions League campaign will continue at Korea-s Steelyard on Tuesday, 5 May, when the yellow and navy will face K-League heavyweights Pohang Steelers. Kick off is at 2pm AEST.
The Mariners will return to their Central Coast Stadium home for Match Day 6 of the AFC Champions League to face the challenge of Chinese Super League heavyweights Tianjin Teda on Tuesday, 19 May. Kick off is at 8pm.
Tickets for this match are on sale from Ticketek outlets, from the Ticketek website - www.ticketek.com.au, or via phone on 132 849.