The ACL returns this week. How will Roar do in Thailand ahead of Sunday’s blockbuster with Victory in Melbourne? The revitalised Reds and Wanderers are also in action.
Muangthong United vs Brisbane Roar (Wed night)
If there were those in Korea Republic, Japan and Australia who underestimated the Thailand Premier League champions when the draw was made, they are doing so no longer.
With four games of the six down and two to go, Muangthong is top of the group with eight points. A win at their compact stadium will secure a place in the last 16 and even a draw could be enough.
“We know what we have to do,” said Muangthong head coach Totchawan Sripan at the weekend. “We also know that the game will be very difficult and that Brisbane is a good team.”
The Kirins have plenty of talent with a number of stars who play for the Thailand national team. Chanathip Songkrasin gave the Caltex Socceroos some major headaches in Bangkok in November as two nations played out a 2-2 draw in qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The diminutive playmaker is off to Japan soon and helping Muangthong to the knockout stage would be a welcome parting gift. There is also sharpshooter Teerasil Dangda and two of the best full-backs in Asia in Tristan Do and Theerathon Bunmathan, who scored a spectacular free-kick on Saturday.
One plus for Brisbane is that influential midfielder Sarach Yooyen is injured and will not play.
That has not been a problem domestically as the champion has won eight and drawn one of the ten games so far, the latest being a slightly disappointing 1-1 draw at Ratchaburi.
The one defeat was inflicted by Buriram United where Muangthong, accustomed to dictating proceedings, were in the unusual position of being put on the backfoot and struggled.
That could provide some encouragement for an experimental Brisbane who have one eye on Sunday’s blockbuster semi final with Victory, and a trip to Thailand these days is a tough ask.
Just ask the national team.
Urawa Reds vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Wed night)
Six points behind with just two games remaining, Western Sydney Wanderers need nothing less than a win but it is not going to be easy. Far from it.
Urawa needs just a draw to be certain of a place in the knockout stage but head coach Mihailo Petrovic said Saturday that he is targeting a win.
The Reds have reason to be confident. There can’t be a tougher assignment in Asia this week than Wanderers’ trip to Saitama Stadium just north of Tokyo.
Urawa is back to the kind of best that took the team to the top of Japanese football in 2006 and a continental title the following year.
Incredibly, neither feat has been repeated but this year could be the one. The Reds are top of the J.League and is on course to win the title that many think it deserved in 2016.
A 3-2 win on Saturday over Consadole Sapporo in front of 37,000 fans was the fifth successive win in all competitions.
In Asia, Urawa has nine points from four games, recovering from the 3-2 loss at Shanghai SIPG on Matchday 3 to defeat the cash rich Chinese club at home last time around.
Yet Urawa, who let a ten point lead at the top of the 2007 J. League slip with five games remaining, will know that it is not over until it is over.
At the very least for the 2014 continental champion, there is the 4-0 home loss in the opening game in February to avenge for coach Tony Popovic and his men.
Not to mention banishing the bitter disappointment last Friday night in Brisbane, when their domestic season ended in heart-breaking circumstances.
Gamba Osaka vs Adelaide United (Tue night)
If the other two games feature Hyundai A-League teams that are at the bottom of their groups travelling to the home of the leaders, this Group H clash is different.
Adelaide looked down and out with just a few minutes remaining in Matchday 3.
A loss at home to Jeju United would have almost certainly spelled the end of their hopes. Yet the Reds fought back to a 3-3 draw and then went to Korea Republic to defeat the islanders on their own soil.
The victory put the team second, level on points with Jeju and one ahead of Gamba. Should Adelaide win in Japan and Jeju lose in China at the already-qualified Jiangsu Suning then the Australians are through.
It won’t be easy. Gamba Osaka famously defeated United in the final of the 2008 tournament and after winning 3-0 at the Hindmarsh Stadium in the opening game,will be confident.
More so after a 6-0 thrashing of Omiya Ardija on Friday – giving the hosts an extra rest day – put the Kansai club up into second.
What was impressive was how all six goals came from different players.
Yet Adelaide can’t be written off. With the ACL their only remaining competition to play for, they’ll be refreshed and ready as they finished their domestic season on April 15 after missing out on the Finals Series.
Gamba has lost both home games so far in the group, most notably a 4-1 loss to Jeju and the Reds can have hope of staying in the hunt for the last 16 and also a little revenge for 2008.