One of their nicknames is « Gangsters of Asia » but Melbourne Victory will aim to arrest the firepower of Ulsan Hyundai, their Asian, when they hit the Champions League last 16 early Monday morning in Doha, Qatar compete against the South Korean team.
Victory caused an amazing surprise when they finished second in their ACL group ahead of runaway winner Beijing Guoan, eliminating yet another South Korean club at FC Seoul.
Ulsan Hyudnais Park Jeong-in (right) scores a goal with teammate Kim Sung-joon against Shanghai Shenhua. Photo credit: Getty Images
Now Grant Brebner’s collection of under-prepared teenagers and seasoned locals – soured by a few high-profile international recruits – wants to continue their fairy tale journey for as long as possible, even if it means spending Christmas in quarantine at the belated start of the A-League campaign next year.
Ulsan was an easy winner in his group, scooping 16 out of a possible 18 points with five wins and one draw in their six games. But it wasn’t quite as easy as the stats suggest, especially when they went up against Victory’s similarly undervalued A-League rivals in Perth Glory.
Ulsan, who has former Socceroo full-back Jason Davidson, joined the squad on Jan.. November from behind to defeat Glory 2-1. David Stynes gave the Australians a 19-minute lead before Kim In-sung in 89. Minute scored the equalizer. Brazilian striker Junior Negrao broke Perth with a winner in the 93. Minute the hearts.
Two days later, the pair met again and Ulsan took the points 2-0, but again relied on dramatic late-night action, with the same two players in 87. and 90. Minute scored a goal.
Brebner saw these games and gathered some useful information about the South Koreans. He’s also spoken to Richie Garcia, Glory’s new coach, for some insight.
« They certainly changed their squad against Perth, but I don’t think their reserves would have been significantly weaker than their starting line-up. We are aware of this result and how long it took them to beat Glory. « Said Brebner.
« I’m going to catch up with the Perth boys to get a little more information from them that will help us. «
The rookie Victory coach has to switch his squad again as Captain Leigh Broxham and English importer Callum McManaman have doubts while a cloud hangs over Jay Barnett.
« The players and staff have teamed up very quickly and it’s an achievement to get to that level considering where we were when we arrived, » said Brebner.
« Broxham doesn’t look good and three or four others feel it. Even if I could play them all, I probably won’t, because five games in 15 days is just terrible for everyone as the players were out of shape before they arrived. It would really cross the line then to ask if it should be 90 minutes more against fantastic teams.
« My priority is game time and I have to make sure we do as well as we can, but make sure I have 20 players fit and in good shape who finished on Aug.. January come for the start in the A-League. «
Meanwhile, Melbourne City was able to leverage its connection with City Football Group by signing Japanese midfielder Naoki Tsubaki from J League champions Yokohama F Marinos, who was coached by former Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou.
Manchester-based CFG owns Melbourne City and is a shareholder in the J-League club. The 20-year-old Tsubaki has been on loan with Giravanz Kitakyushu for the past two seasons, where he played 39 games.
The city’s football director, Michael Petrillo, said: « He comes to us in great esteem from Ange Postecoglou. Naoki has the ability to play a number of positions in attack and his mix of technical ability, speed and creativity has impressed us with what we saw of him. «
Tsubaki is City’s seventh preseason signing of the 2020/21 season, along with Ben Garuccio, Andrew Nabbout, Marco Tilio, Matt Sutton, Taras Gomulka and Aiden O’Neil.
Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief football reporter and also covers motorsports and horse racing
Ulsan Hyundai FC, AFC Champions League, Melbourne Victory FC, FC Seoul, K League 1, A-League, Perth Glory FC
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