ACL Group H is poised on a knife edge with second spot still very much up for grabs. The Wanderers desperately need three points while the improving Kashima Antlers are on a winning streak going into Tuesday night's clash in Parramatta.
Tony Popovic’s Asian Champions are currently second in the group – level on five points with FC Seoul – but the Antlers are just two points behind.
It sets up a thrilling climax to Group H with one group stage match-day to go after this Tuesday night.
Wanderers should go into it with confidence having come-from-behind to beat Adelaide United 2-1 in the Hyundai A-League on Saturday.
“We’ll go in with a real positive mindset – there’s a lot we can take from (Saturday’s match against Adelaide United),” Popovic said. “If things aren’t going for us, we know we can come back.
“We’re looking forward to Tuesday and 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.”
If the Wanderers are to make the knockout stage they need all three points here, with a tough away trip against group leaders Guangzhou Evergrande to come on the final match-day.
— Kashima Antlers (@atlrs_english) April 19, 2015
Meanwhile, Kashima have settled well into their Sydney surroundings, happily tweeting their approval of the Autumnal weather and good training facilities in the Harbour City.
Kashima lost in the previous clash between these two sides in Japan, but have found form over the last month.
Toninho Cerezo’s Antlers are unbeaten in their last five games in the J-League and ACL – including a memorable win over leaders Guangzhou a fortnight ago as well as a 3-1 victory over Kashiwa Reysol in league action on the weekend.
Ominously for the Wanderers, all the Japanese side’s top players are hitting peak form.
Samurai Blue rising star Gaku Shibasaki is one the home side must watch, while Brazilian Caio (and birthday boy) might be young but has loads of ability.
Yasushi Endo in midfield is now a stalwart for the club and also looms as a threat to the Wanderers’ hopes.
Meanwhile, Western Sydney will be sweating on the fitness of skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley, who is struggling with a foot injury.
Labinot Halit and Iacopo La Rocca were rested from domestic action on the weekend and should return while it will be interesting to see who he goes for to lead the line.
Popovic has preferred to use Kerem Bulut from the start in the ACL, leaving Socceroo striker Tomi Juric as a weapon off the bench in the second half.comments