Popovic’s positive for must-win game
THE come-from-behind win against Adelaide United at the weekend has given Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic confidence his battle-weary side can claim a crucial Asian Champions League win over Japanese outfit Kashima Antlers in Sydney tonight.
It's a must-win match for the Wanderers, who sit second in Group H with five points from four games.
A win tonight would take the defending champions to eight points with one match - a tough away assignment next month against arch-rivals Guangzhou Evergrande - to be played to complete the group stage.
Guangzhou leads the way with nine points and can do Western Sydney a favour by beating side FC Seoul away tonight. The South Korean outfit finishes its campaign against the Antlers on May 5.
Kashima is bringing up the rear in the group with three points, but is unbeaten in its past five games in all competitions.
Popovic said the win against Adelaide had come at exactly the right time.
"We'll go in with a real positive mindset. There's a lot we can take from (Saturday's match against Adelaide United). If things aren't going for us, we know we can come back," he told reporters. "It's a big game for us. We're used to big games here and with our fans behind us we want to get those three points."
Western Sydney captain and key defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley (foot) must pass a fitness test to take his place in the line-up, while Labinot Haliti and Iacopo La Rocca were rested from the Adelaide game and are likely to start tonight.
Popovic is expected to again employ his regular Champions League tactic of playing striker Tomi Juric off the bench.
The players to watch for the visitors include rising star Gaku Shibasaki, Brazilian Caio and veteran midfielder Yasushi Endo.
Meanwhile, Brisbane Roar cannot afford a slip-up against Group G leader Beijing Guoan in the Chinese capital.
The Roar is third in its group with four points, six behind Beijing Guoan and three behind Suwon Samsung, which travels to Japan to take on bottom side Urawa Red Diamonds tonight.
Brisbane not only needs to get at least a point from its match, it also needs Urawa to upset Suwon to stay in contention in the group ahead of the final round next month.
Roar coach Frans Thijssen rested several key players - including brilliant attacking midfielder Thomas Broich - from Saturday night's controversial 1-0 home loss to Melbourne Victory to give his team the best chance of a result in China.
It will certainly go in as steep underdogs, however, with Beijing Guoan unbeaten in its last 21 matches. That included a 1-0 over the Roar at Robina in February when Chen Zhizhao scored an injury-time winner from a free-kick.
- APN SPORTS BUREAU