ACL Preview: Sanfrecce Hiroshima v Central Coast Mariners
Played: 1, Wins: Sanfrecce 0, Mariners 1, Draws: 0
Mariners 2-1 Sanfrecce, March 11 2014
Past five matches:
The equation is simple for Central Coast, beat Sanfrecce in Japan and progression to the last 16 of the AFC Champions League for a second consecutive year is assured. The Mariners (-2) are level on six points with Sanfrecce (+0) and Beijing Guoan (+0) after five games, while FC Seoul top the Group F standings on eight points after five games. With head-to-head records the determining factor in Asia's premier club tournament, a draw for the Mariners may be enough, depending on the result between Seoul and Beijing. Phil Moss' men will have their work cut out, however, against a Sanfrecce side that has only tasted defeat once since their loss in Gosford last month.
The big issue:
Sanfrecce – The J.League club's home form in the Champions League has left a lot to be desired. Hajime Moriyasu's side have only managed one win (against Seoul on matchday five) since February last year. In that period Sanfrecce lost to Bunyodkor, Pohang Steelers on home soil and played out draws against Beijing on two separate occasions. Moriyasu will be determined to see some improvement as they bid to reach the knockout round.
Mariners – How will the Gosford-based club cope juggling Champions League commitments and an A-League semi-final? Central Coast are preparing for a week from hell with the Mariners tackling Sanfrecce in Japan on Wednesday before squaring off against the Western Sydney Wanderers three days later for a place in the championship decider. Moss, who has already voiced his displeasure with the scheduling of Saturday's clash, will understandably ring the changes to keep his side as fit as possible.
The game breaker:
Kim Seung-Yong - The South Korean is set to play a big role against Sanfrecce with Moss expected to rotate his squad. Kim, who won the 2012 Champions League during his time at Ulsan Hyundai, was an unused substitute in Central Coast's 1-0 victory over Adelaide United last weekend and his fitness may just be the ace up the Mariners' sleeve.
Prediction: Sanfrecce 2-1 Mariners
The Mariners have defied the odds all season. Following the departures of Graham Arnold, Patrick Zwaanswijk, Pedj Bojic, Mathew Ryan, Oliver Bozanic, Michael McGlinchey, Trent Sainsbury and Daniel McBreen, many had expected the club to slip away but they have done the opposite. The Australian battlers are a win away from qualifying for the last 16 in Asia. However, with one eye on defending their A-League crown, Sanfrecce will be too strong and extend their unbeaten streak to nine games in all competitions.