The carrot of hosting the AFC Champions League final has given Adelaide United a turbo-boost ahead of its looming quarter-final clash against Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor.
That’s the verdict of utility Jon McKain as the Reds dream of superseding 2008 when their fairytale ride to the final saw them soundly beaten by Gamba Osaka in the decider.
“The success of the past has shown us what this club is capable of and there’s a determination there to go one better than 2008,” he said.
“The big carrot is the possibility of the final being at Hindmarsh, that’s a little bit of added incentive. Not that you need it in this competition.
“Bunyodkor will be tough but they have only recently come off a five-week break, so the fact that we are out of season might not be such a factor as you might imagine.
“I don’t think we’ll be too far behind them. We’ve had plenty of preparation now with around seven lead-in games, so there will be no excuses.
“We know them as a team but every game brings something new.”
An impressive ACL campaign has already seen John Kosmina’s men overcome J-League heavyweight Nagoya Grampus in the round of 16, as well as Gamba in the group stage, to set up the two-legged confrontation with David Carney’s Bunyodkor.
If the Reds get the better of a Bunyodkor side they took four points from in the group stage, they will face the winner of the quarter-final between Korea Republic's Ulsan Hyundai and Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal with victory in that one leading them back to the promised land of Hindmarsh Stadium for the one-off November final.
And if the Reds are looking for omen, they overcame Bunyodkor 3-1 on aggregate in their semi-final back in 2008.
Buoyed by Friday’s 6-2 pre-season mauling of defending A-League champion Brisbane Roar at Hindmarsh Stadium, the Reds have a final warm-up against Central Coast on home soil before the Bunyodkor blockbuster on September 19, with the return on October 3.
McKain says his teammates are not letting the resounding win produce a false sense of security, explaining: “We beat them 3-0 in pre-season last year and they ended up giving us a seven-goal hiding during the season, so we are certainly not getting carried away.
“It was a good result for us, we put together some good stuff and you have seen we are intent on rising to the challenge after the disappointment of last season.
“But Brisbane are still the team to beat, make no mistake. We are a little ahead of them in our preparation with everything geared towards the Champions League for us right now.
“We had a bit more focus on this occasion but in the scheme of things it’s not really an indicator of anything. That said, the signs were good and we have something to build on.”
McKain contends that the Reds under Kosmina have more depth than the Rini Coolen version – and are equipped to challenge again for A-League honours.
“We have changed very few players this pre-season unlike last year when there were 11 new faces at the club and there’s a lot more continuity now and the quality of the team runs a bit deeper.”
Places are also at a premium, with even former skipper McKain – a regular at the back last season – being used off the bench as a 70th minute substitute in midfield against Roar.
“I’ve played at the back most of the pre-season but also in midfield and off the bench, so nothing is easy. I will play wherever Kossie thinks I’m best suited.
“I enjoy switching positions. There are always things to learn. Kossie has been chopping and changing and seeing what works and what doesn’t.”
AFC Champions League
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