Gamba Osaka face Melbourne Victory at the AFC Champions League group stage for the first time since their title-winning run three years ago and coach Akira Nishino wants his side to emulate that success once again, starting with victory over the Australians tomorrow.
The Japanese side won both encounters against Melbourne back in 2008, edging a 4-3 thriller at AAMI Park before securing a 2-0 victory on home soil at Expo' 70 Stadium, and finally went on to claim the continental crown. However, they have struggled to come close to repeating that feat in the last two editions of the tournament and Nishino is determined to see that record change, starting with three points.
"In the last two years, we couldn't go beyond the Round of 16 and felt the difficulties of playing in the knockout stage," Nishino said. But this year, we would like to emulate our success of 2008, and we want to play with that challenge."
Victory coach Ernie Merrick feels his side are a much changed from the one that lost twice to Gamba back in 2008. "That was only our third season in football, we have now played six seasons," said Merrick. "We have Archie Thompson back to full fitness, Danny Allsopp too. We also have Robbie Kruse, who is going to Germany at the end of the season."
"Gamba Osaka are a very good team. They finished second in the championship. Their coach is very good, he's been here nine or 10 years," the coach went on.
In the other group game, Jeju United make their first appearance in the tournament when they take on Chinese side Tianjin Teda at Jeju World Cup Stadium. The Koreans have lost key midfielder Koo Ja-cheol after the 21-year-old joined German side Wolfsburg, but coach Park Kyung-hoon has high hopes his players will step up and do the team proud.
"We are the K-League's oldest team but this is the first time we have appeared in the AFC Champions League," Kyung-hoon said. "There is a mixture of nerves and anticipation. As a representative of the K-League, we naturally want to do our best and win this game."
Tianjin Teda coach Arie Haan warned his players of the perils of underestimating their opponents. "They may not have AFC Champions League experience but they have players with lots of other kinds of experience so Jeju can do well," he said.