Now it really starts.
We’ve been through 20 rounds of the A-League, and clubs have positioned themselves for the business end of the season, both on the table and with personnel.
For three of the big guns in the A-League, the task is imposing, as there is an Asian Champions League campaign to contend with.
Next week, Melbourne Victory, Central Coast and Western Sydney Wanderers start their six group stage matches against Japanese, Chinese and Korean opponents.
In the past few years, Australian clubs haven’t paid total attention to detail when it comes to the ACL.
Timing is one thing – trying to win one comp (A-League) while trying to survive in another (Champions League) with so much travel involved is a unique situation that is hard to deal with.
The Asian clubs playing in the competition are just starting their domestic leagues, so they have an advantage in that sense.
Sheer economics is another. The relatively small budgets of our sides compared to say a Guangzhou Evergrande is like comparing the GDP of China to Guam.
So to this year’s edition. Can an Australian side get out of the group to play in the knockout stages?
Central Coast did it last season, but it would be a surprise if they did it again. They’ve got to get past Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Korean giants FC Seoul and Chinese side Beijing Guoan.
Melbourne Victory too have a monumental task to escape their group with the richest club in all of Asia and last year’s winners Guangzhou Evergrande first. Yokohama F Marinos and Jeonbuk Motors complete their group.
As for the Wanderers – I reckon they’ve got the best chance of the three to do something. It’s obvious with the way Tony Popovic (pictured) has juggled his team during the past two months.
13 games in around 50 days until the end of the A-League regular season explains why he’s been doing what he’s done.
Wanderers will play Guizhou Renhe, who played the Mariners last season and were ok without being spectacular, Kawasaki Frontale who have a traditional balance of talented Japanese players mixed with Brazilian imports and Ulsan Hyundai won it in 2012 but missed out all together in 2013.
They are to be respected, but of course, the fervent support at Parramatta will count for plenty. They will hear about it before the games but not be fully prepared when that wall of noise hits comes game time.
We at Fox Sports will be giving it the full treatment, with every game live and exclusive, including studio analysis every time an Aussie side plays, starting next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Can’t wait, and hope you can get into it too, because it’s a whole new world!