Brisbane Roar are still alive in the AFC Champions League after their resolute 1-0 win in China last night, but their defensive ranks will be tested yet again when they head into a must-win match against Urawa Red Diamonds on Tuesday, 5 May, at Gold Coast Stadium.
Young defenders James Donachie and Corey Brown picked up their second yellow cards of the Group Stage in last night's heroics against group leaders Beijing Guoan and now both must serve a one-match suspension.
Their absence for the Urawa game is a tough blow for a Roar squad that has already lost defenders Luke DeVere (quad) and Shane Stefanutto (calf) to season-ending injuries while right back Jerome Polenz is excluded from AFC Champions League football at this stage because of visa player restrictions.
There is also the delicate recovery management of central defender Jade North, who has had no opportunity to ease back from a groin strain and instead has courageously stepped up to provide vital cover in the shell-shocked Roar back line.
Roar Head Coach Frans Thijssen said he could not recall any time in his long and illustrious playing and coaching career that a side had been forced to reshuffle its back line for such a sustained period.
"It is a credit to the entire squad that despite so many changes and several players sometimes playing out of position that we have still achieved two Champions League wins on the road," Thijssen said.
Thijssen said the Roar would have no choice but to attack Urawa from the outset as they chase the healthy victory needed to give themselves any chance of reaching the knockout Round of 16.
In addition to winning by at least two goals, possibly three, the Roar's path to the next phase of the competition will require a number of factors beyond their control to fall their way.
Under AFC rules, if teams are tied on points, they are split on head-to-head results first then goal difference, then total number of goals scored in the Group Stage.
That means Suwon must beat Beijing in their final game because the Roar's head-to-head is even with the Chinese and goal-scoring is greater but inferior on both counts to the South Koreans thanks to the 3-1 loss in Suwon earlier this month.
Then is there is one further twist.
If Beijing and Suwon draw their final Group Stage game, both those sides will go through to the next round with 11 points – one more than the maximum 10 points the Roar can achieve.
Thijssen said his team was good enough to go deep into the competition but was now paying the price of squandering a two-goal lead at home to Suwon and conceding an injury time winner in the opening game against Beijing on the Gold Coast.
"We could so easily have been in a better position going into the final Champions League game but we know what the position is now and what we have to do against Urawa," Thijssen said.
"We will be attacking Urawa and scoring as many goals as we can and keeping our fingers crossed for the right result in the other game."
The Roar fly out of Beijing later today and arrive back in Brisbane on Thursday morning.
They return to Hyundai A-League action on Friday night with their Round 27 match against Newcastle Jets at Suncorp Stadium (7.40pm kick-off).
They will then play in the Hyundai A-League Finals Series on the weekend of 1-3 May, against an opponent yet to be determined, before facing Urawa just days later on 5 May.
"Our busy program just keeps on going but we are happy to still be alive in all competitions," Thijssen said.