Defending champions Western Sydney Wanderers face an uphill task trying to avoid crashing out of the AFC Champions League at the group stage but coach Tony Popovic has not given up hope of reaching the knockout rounds.
Western Sydney are bottom of Group H heading into Tuesday’s showdown against pacesetters Guangzhou Evergrande in China, after the Australians suffered a late 2-1 loss at home to Kashima Antlers.
The matchday five defeat left the Wanderers with five points, one less than Kashima Antlers and FC Seoul, and five adrift of Evergrande.
Popovic and Co. must beat Evergrande at the 58,000-capacity Tianhe Stadium and hope Kashima against Seoul ends in a draw if the Wanderers are to keep their title defence alive.
And they will have to do it without striker Kerem Bulut, defender Yusuke Tanaka and midfielder Kearyn Baccus due to suspension.
“I never doubt any game that we can win, that will be no different [against Evergrande],” Popovic said following the club’s loss to Kashima.
“If we doubted ourselves, we wouldn’t have won the Champions League last year. We showed today how good we can be but we haven’t been able to punish sides like last year.
“We go to Guangzhou, we have to believe we can win. A difficult task? Yes, of course.”
Fellow A-League outfit Brisbane Roar also require results to go their way if they are to progress from Group G on Tuesday.
A first-half goal from Andrija Kaluderovic helped Brisbane upstage Beijing Guoan 1-0 last time out, keeping the former’s hopes alive.
Roar are third in the group with seven points, three behind Beijing and Suwon Bluewings.
Brisbane, who were eliminated from the A-League finals in week one on Friday, host lowly Urawa Reds requiring victory, and hoping Suwon trump Beijing on the same day.
There is still plenty up for grabs in Group D, with only three points separating Nasaf, Al Ahli and Tractor Sazi.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli top the group with 11 points, while Nasaf are four points behind, ahead of UAE’s Al Ahli (five) and Tractor Sazi (four).
Tractor Sazi travel to the UAE to play Al Ahli, while Nasaf host the group leaders.
Group C is already decided as Al Sadd and Al Hilal, who will go head-to-head, prepare for the knockout stages, with Lokomotiv and Foolad playing to avoid finishing bottom.
On Wednesday, Gamba Osaka can seal their progression with victory over Group F leaders Seongnam.
Buriram United – level on points with Gamba – host Guangzhou R&F.
In Group E, Jeonbuk Motors entertain Shandong Luneng, and leaders Kashiwa Reysol make the trip to winless Binh Duong.
Group B is set to go down to the wire, with leaders Al Ain playing host to second-placed Naft Tehran, while Pakhtakor tackle lowly Al Shabab.
Bunyodkor are the only team in Group A without a chance of advancing, as Lekhwiya, Persepolis and Al Nassr fight for two spots.
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