CENTRAL Coast captain Alex Wilkinson believes his team is physically and mentally prepared for Tuesday’s crunch AFC Champions League tie...
CENTRAL Coast captain Alex Wilkinson believes his team is physically and mentally prepared for Tuesday-s crunch AFC Champions League tie against Nagoya Grampus in Japan, with only some tactical fine-tuning needed to ready the Mariners for the must-win match.
With the Hyundai A-League over for another season and a full fortnight to prepare for the teams last match against Tianjin Teda in Gosford, the Mariners produced their sharpest display on record in Asia-s premier club competition to cruise to a classy 5-1 triumph.
With another win needed in the land of the rising sun to advance to the knockout stages of the prestigious tournament, Wilkinson said his side has benefitted from a lighter schedule of late, allowing the players to head to Nagoya physically and mentally prepared.
“For most of the AFC Champions League we were playing Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday, and you saw when we got over to Korea it had caught up with us a bit,” the Mariners- number 18 said. “It was the culmination of a few things that resulted in that bad loss (against Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma).”
“The freshness is great. We showed against Tianjin that when the boys are fresh and the power is back in their legs it makes a big big difference. Now it-s just a matter of fine-tuning our tactics.”
Indeed, the Mariners ought to go into Tuesday-s encounter with more knowledge about their illustrious opponents at their disposal than they did on AFC Champions League Matchday 2. Former Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker and the yellow and navy-s Head Coach, Graham Arnold, will attend Nagoya-s domestic clash against Vissel Kobe on Saturday to gain first-hand insights into how to break down the J-League giants.
And, with Wilkinson expecting Dragan Stojkovic-s men to be far sharper than when they first met in this season-s Champions League, there-s no doubting how crucial Arnold-s fact-finding mission may prove.
“We played Nagoya quite a few weeks ago now and they were only in their second match of the season,” Wilkinson said. “They probably weren-t as sharp as they are going to be this time. We are going to be expecting a much tougher test.”
Adding that “the boys are buzzing” heading into the match, Wilkinson acknowledged the enormity of Tuesday-s contest at the Mizuho Athletic Stadium in Japan, located some 7,800 kilometres from Gosford-s idyllic Bluetongue Stadium.
“We-ve had a few big games in the Club-s history, obviously Grand Finals and playing for Premierships, but it definitely ranks up there (as one of the Club-s biggest matches).”
“Not a lot of people realise how big the AFC Champions League is, but as a playing group we realise that to make the last 16 in Asia would be a huge achievement for the Club.”
“And with Adelaide already through, to have two Australian teams qualify for the last 16 in Asia would be a massive result for the A-League and show how much the A-League is improving. It would go a long way to getting more credit for the A-League around Asia,” he concluded.
Match Details AFC Champions League Matchday 6 Nagoya Grampus vs. Central Coast Mariners Kick-off: 7pm (local); 8pm (AEDT) Mizuho Athletic Stadium, Nagoya, Japan Twitter: Join the match conversation on Twitter. The official match hash-tag is #ACLngccm Special event: Join Lawrie McKinna, non-travelling Mariners players and like-minded fans at Mingara Recreation Club for the match. Click here for more details.