AFC Champions League Preview: Western Sydney Wanderers v Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Played: 1, Wins: Wanderers 0, Sanfrecce 1, Draws: 0
Sanfrecce 3-1 Wanderers, Wednesday 7 May, 2014
Past five matches (in all competitions):
The J-League champions go into this game with a healthy advantage over their Australian opponents after dictating terms for much of the first leg. They were unfortunate to concede an away goal in the form of a questionable penalty awarded to the Wanderers in the second half, before a goalkeeping error from Ante Covic saw the hosts restore their two-goal buffer in injury time.
In the first game the Wanderers, as a club, were still reeling from the disappointment of their extra-time Grand Final loss to Brisbane Roar three days prior. This time around they will be able to play a full-strength team and will surely be determined to end their 2013-14 campaign on a high. If the Wanderers advance, they will not be due to contest the quarter-finals until August 19 or 20.
The big issue:
Wanderers - Western Sydney are used to playing without the ball, but in Hiroshima last week their pressing game and shape when out of possession wasn't good enough to stop their Japanese opponents from creating plenty of chances. With Nikolai Topor-Stanley injured, expect Matthew Spiranovic, who lined up in midfield in the first leg, to return to central defence alongside either Daniel Mullen or Michael Beauchamp.
Mateo Poljak and Iacopo La Rocca should return to midfield, where they will be joined by Shinji Ono in the marquee international's final game for the Wanderers. Even if they make it through to the last eight, he will leave the club to join up with J-League Division 2 side Consadole Sapporo.
Sanfrecce - The reigning Japanese champions haven't found their best form yet in 2014, drawing their last two league games 1-1 at home to Shimizu S-Pulse and 0-0 at Vissel Kobe. Having had a relatively easy time of it at the back last week, their defence is set to work harder and experience a tougher examination, with first-choice forwards Mark Bridge, Brendon Santalab and Youssouf Hersi all in contention to return to the Wanderers attack.
The game breaker:
The stage is set for Ono is steal the show in his final outing in red and black hoops. He only came on for the final 26 minutes at EDION Stadium in the first leg, but will surely start and receive a rapturous send off from the Parramatta faithful on Wednesday. His vision and incisive passing behind the front men will be required if the Wanderers are to break down the visitors, who may be inclined to try and defend their two-goal lead away from home.
The Wanderers are certainly capable of scoring at least twice against Sanfrecce, particularly if they make another of the fast starts that served them so well in the group stage. But can they prevent a dangerous Sanfrecce attack, in particular razor-sharp frontman Naoki Ishihara, from netting a goal which will make the task significantly harder for the home team? A 2-0 win would be enough for the Wanderers to go through on away goals, but if Sanfrecce get on the scoresheet just once, Western Sydney would need to win 4-1 to avoid the match going to extra-time. A big ask indeed.