Melbourne Victory has the opportunity to continue their journey into uncharted waters on Tuesday with a spot in the AFC Champions League (ACL) quarter-finals up for grabs.
Coach Kevin Muscat stressed there are “not too many firsts” left to achieve at Victory and challenged his squad to get the result they need away to Jeonbuk Motors after last week’s 1-1 draw in the first leg in Melbourne.
A win will earn Victory a berth in the ACL’s last eight, while a score draw involving four goals or more would also see Muscat’s men progress.
With Archie Thompson, Matthieu Delpierre and Kosta Barbarouses set to play their last games for the club and the squad having already broken new continental ground by reaching the Round of 16, some may expect a lack of desperation from Victory at Jeonju World Cup Stadium.
But Muscat insisted his players are hungry for more success.
“I’ve not sensed from anyone that they’re happy with what we’ve achieved,” he said on Monday.
“[Qualifying for the quarter-finals] would be a massive achievement for the group, so I’m sure that the players understand that as well.”
Muscat added: “The reality is it is [special]. It’s not just another game, so you’ve got to treat it accordingly.
“There’s perhaps not too many firsts left to create at the football club, so this gives us another opportunity to do that, and we’ve just got to make sure… that our preparation in what we do gives the group the best chance of being successful.”
Victory arrived in Jeonju late on Saturday night and after a light run on Sunday will train at Jeonbuk’s home ground on Monday afternoon.
Jeonbuk played on Saturday in the K League, winning 2-1 at Jeonnam Dragons but coach Choi Kang-hee named an almost completely different starting XI to that which faced Victory, with only goalkeeper Kwon Soon-tae lining up in both matches.
Muscat expects Choi to again make massed changes for Tuesday’s ACL fixture, with the likes of Leonardo, Lee Dong-gook and Kim Bo-kyung to return.
Victory’s boss is still working on “one or two things” in terms of his line-up.
While Muscat claimed he “can’t really take too much” out of Jeonbuk’s domestic win over the weekend, the match was a reminder of what Victory can expect from the K League champions.
Jeonbuk struggled defending set-pieces against Jeonnam, with the home side’s only goal coming from a short corner, while Choi’s side were generally very direct in attack.
After conceding in the 47th minute, Jeonbuk fought back via a brace from Luiz Henrique.
The first goal came in the 57th minute with Ricardo Lopes collecting a knock-down from Jeonnam’s defence and teeing up his fellow Brazilian on the edge of the box.
Then in stoppage time, Kwon sent the ball long for substitute Kim Shin-wook, who flicked his header to Lopes and again the Brazilian wingers linked up, with Henrique expertly scoring with the outside of his boot after surging inside from the right flank.