The focus has swung onto Brisbane Roar’s defence as the club prepares to take on J-League 2014 runners-up Urawa Red Diamonds in an AFC Champions League Group Stage game at Saitama Stadium on Wednesday night.
While the Roar attack has produced an impressive nine goals in the side’s last four Hyundai A-League games - six of them on the road - Roar interim Head Coach Frans Thijssen has no doubts his back four will be under extreme pressure from the speedy and desperate Japanese.
Like the Roar, Urawa lost their opening Champions League Group Stage clash. They conceded two second-half goals in a 2-1 away loss to Suwon Blue Wings.
But unlike the Roar who bounced back with a fighting 2-2 draw with Perth, the week didn’t get any better for the Japanese side as they went down 2-0 to arch rivals in the J-League pre-season Super Cup on Saturday night.
The fickle Urawa fans are certain to demand an attacking start from the home side who are coached by former Yugoslav international Mihailo Petrovic.
The Red Diamonds squad has been strengthened by the addition of Slovenian striker Zlatan Ljubijankic, who came off the bench midway through the second half in the Super Cup and nearly scored two minutes later with a glancing header.
There is expectation in Japan that Ljubijankic will start against the Roar, which will be one further test for the Brisbane defenders.
“They will continually try and get behind us. We will have to be disciplinedand not let their attackers get too much room,” said Thijssen said as the Roar landed in Japan this morning after flying overnight from Perth.
The Roar defence comes into the match after a torrid closing 15 minutes against Perth. After young left fullback Corey Brown was sent-off, the 10-man Roar conceded an equaliser and had to battle bravely to save the point.
Brown will serve his suspension in the A-League and could be selected for the Champions League Match Day Two, but it is expected Thijssen will shuffle his backline as part of the player rotation the Football Department has mapped out to steer the squad through an unprecedented month of matches .
Experienced defender Shane Stefanutto, who wasn’t in the squad for the Glory game, is tipped to come into the starting line-up.
With regular right back Jerome Polenz not included in the party that travelled to Japan because of visa player restrictions, Jack Hingert is expected to play right fullback as he did in the opening Champions League match against Beijing Guoan.
But it is in the middle of the park that Thijssen must make his toughest of calls.
Against Beijing, Olyroo squad member James Donachie sat on the bench as Jade North and Luke DeVere marshalled the centre of defence.
In Perth, DeVere went back to the bench as Donachie started, but he came on to bolster the defence after Brown’s dismissal. At that point Donachie was pushed out to left back.
North has been an ever-present and could be due a rest under the rotation policy, but against a rampant Urawa, Thijssen may opt for experience in the central defence by keeping the North-DeVere pairing.
“They are all good strong, tall players who do a very good job for us. It’s a decision we will consider closely over the next 24 hours,” Thijssen said.
“But they all know each other’s games now. It is a good position to be in to have a number of combinations we could pick.”
North and Stefanutto say the contribution of the defenders should not be under-estimated under the current rotation system at the Roar.
“All the defenders are good players who will do the job wherever they are selected, but we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, “North said.
“We have to be aware of those each time the backline changes.”
Stefanutto agreed and said it added to the extra mental preparation the Roar defenders are shouldering under the current heavy match workload.
“As well as concentrating on our opponents we also have to be very mindful of our defensive partners and making sure we are not just four defenders across the back but that we combine as a unit in defence and going forward,” he said.
Urawa's Saitama Stadium has a capacity of 63,000 - it was a 2002 World Cup semi-final venue - but club officials today said they were expecting a crowd on Wednesday of around 10,000.