Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat admits the deck is stacked against A-League clubs in the Asian Champions League, but for once he has an ace up his sleeve.
For the first time, Victory will field an Asian marquee man in the continental championship, Keisuke Honda.
And Muscat hopes his Japanese star can be the difference given Victory’s record of one advancement from the group stage in seven attempts.
“The way (the Champions League) has evolved has been rapid,” Muscat said.
“You take into consideration the nations we’re up against, the influx of foreigners in China, that’s blown the competition apart.
“The influx of foreign coaches, through the different regions and nations we play – that from a technical and tactical perspective, it’s gone forward leaps and bounds.
“As a nation we want to get better and improve, and get better results in the tournament. We’ve got to respect that while we’re trying to improve, so is everybody else.
“It’s still no mean feat.”
Victory begin their campaign against South Korean FA Cup winners Daegu FC at AAMI Park on Tuesday night.
Muscat said the club hadn’t drawn on defender James Donachie, who spent the last six months in the K League 1, instead drawing on “tireless” scouting reports from his backroom staff.
Daegu began their domestic season on Friday, drawing 1-1 with a previous ACL nemesis of Victory, Jeonbuk Motors.
Given the importance of winning home matches to progress out of the group stage, Victory will desperately want three points on Tuesday night.
Muscat should be able to call upon Ola Toivonen and Carl Valeri to help Honda and his team out.
Muscat reported his Swedish striker had trained with the group on Monday morning and could even start, with Valeri a possibility from the bench.
Should Toivonen prove his fitness and combine with Honda, who fills an Asia-specific visa slot for the competition, Muscat should be confident of a win.
“In previous campaigns it hasn’t been through want of trying to use that (Asian) place,” he said.
“Naturally there will be a lot of attention (on Honda). He’s part of a group of people that we will put out tomorrow night, optimistic and excited about performing really well.”