Mind games have become a key part of the preparations as Brisbane Roar takes on group leaders Beijing Guoan in a must-win AFC Champions League clash in China tonight.
In something similar to an intriguing game of Chinese checkers, the two teams yesterday shielded their likely starting line-ups in the lead up to the crunch match, talked up their opponents then emphasised the need to win.
At yesterday’s mandatory pre-match press conference, it was clear Beijing Guoan officials and local media were well aware the Roar had not played several of its experienced players in last Saturday’s Hyundai A-League clash against Melbourne Victory at Suncorp Stadium, preferring to rest them for the long trip to China the next day.
But is also emerged that Beijing fielded an understrength team in their Chinese Super League match at the weekend, claiming they had seven players injured.
Yet club insiders later told Roar striker Andrija Kaluderovic, who played with Beijing Guoan for nine months in 2012 and has been mobbed by fans and welcome by club officials since his arrival here on Monday, that all seven will be named in the Guoan squad tonight.
The only certainty is that Beijing Guoan’s towering defender, Lang Zheng, who was sent-off three minutes from time in their 1-1 draw with Japan’s Urawa on Match Day Four, is suspended and will not play.
With just two games to go in the Group Stage, the third-placed Roar (four points) must win at the Beijing Workers Stadium to keep alive any realistic hopes of advancing to the knockout Round of 16.
Beijing Guoan, with 10 points, needs just a point from the home match to ensure they will advance and can all-but seal first place in the group with a victory.
Their coach Gregorio Manzano yesterday expressed an unwavering desire to sweep aside Brisbane and clinch the group, but then hedged on who he would name in his starting XI.
Roar Head Coach Frans Thijssen admitted his team had to win, but skilfully dodged questions from local media and Beijing Guoan officials about his likely line-up.
“We look forward to playing them, we were not very lucky in the first game,” said Thijssen, referring to the 0-1 loss on Match Day One at Gold Coast Stadium when Beijing took the points thanks to an injury-time deflected goal.
“They have had a good run in this competition and us not as good so far. We have only one choice here . . . to win the game.”
Andrija has warned his Roar team mates to expect up to 40,000 passionate Guoan fans to attend tonight – the biggest crowd Brisbane has played in front of since last year’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final.
“It is a very big stadium. The support here is incredible, perhaps the best support in possibly all of Asia,” he said.
Andrija, who had the misfortune of deflecting a free kick into the goal that gave Beijing its surprise Match Day One three points, said he would like to atone by scoring for the Roar tonight.
“It was so sad. We did not deserve to lose this game,” he said of the 25 February loss to Beijing Guoan, who came into the group through a qualifying round play-off and were expected to be one of the weaker teams in the group.
“Now the only option for us is to win. I respect everyone here (after playing with Guoan) but I am professional footballer and I play now for Brisbane and I will do anything to win here for my new club and team mates.
“We have quality, we have talent. All we need to do is to show this tomorrow as they are also a very good team. We have to bring our best game.
“It will be more difficult than at the Gold Coast but we must win here if we want anything out of the Champions League.”
The match will be telecast live tonight on Fox Sports 4 (Channel 505) from 9.30pm. The Roar’s final regular season Hyundai A-League game is against Newcastle Jets at Suncorp Stadium on Friday (7.40pm kick off).