With wins over Bali United and Kashima Antlers securing an unlikely place in its group stages, the Asian Champions League has already served as a silver lining on an otherwise cloudy 2019/20 A-League season for Victory.
Without a win in the A-League since they defeated Newcastle Jets 4-0 on January 5, Victory’s domestic woes continued last Friday when they were downed 2-1 by cross-town foes Melbourne City in the third and final Melbourne Derby of the season.
Their anguish was compounded the next day when star attacker Robbie Kruse was confirmed for another extended period on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
But, with a bye week awaiting them in round 20, the four-time A-League champions have a chance to temporarily forget their domestic woes with two Champions League games in the coming weeks, starting with Thai champions Chiangrai United on Tuesday night.
They will then travel to South Korea to take on FC Seoul the week after.
2020 will mark the first time that Chiangrai has progressed through to the group stages of the continental competition, having fallen at the final hurdle in play-off losses to Shanghai SIPG and Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2018 and 2019.
Led by Brazilian attacker Bill, who has had stints with Santos, Corinthians and Al-Ittihad prior to his arrival in Thailand, The Beetles anticipate sending out their strongest team for the showdown at the ‘Melbourne Rectangular Stadium’, despite the first game of their domestic season taking place on Saturday.
“We’re going to play our strongest team for sure,” Chiangrai official Chittawan Chinanuvat said. “It’s match by match, after tomorrow we may rotate for the Thai league.”
Aside from the injured Kruse and Leigh Broxham, who will continue to miss with a calf injury coach Carlos Salvachúa also anticipates fielding his strongest XI for Tuesday night’s fixture, with Marco Rojas coming into contention for selection after replacing Jakob Poulsen in Victory’s ACL squad.
Midfielder Migjen Basha and captain Ola Toivonen are the other foreigners named in Victory’s squad, with oft-injured defender Tim Hoogland saved for A-League duties.
“We have no A-League now for two weeks, so we’re focused on the Champions League” the Victory gaffer said.