5 into 3 doesn't go as Victory and Sydney forced to make tough ACL calls

You wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of Kevin Muscat or Graham Arnold right about now as they run the rule over their five foreign players and will be forced to make the incredibly tough call on which two foreign players to leave out of their respective AFC Champions League squads.

It’s an issue that they would have been fully aware of for some time now, and perhaps their decisions have already been made.

But much can happen between now and 24 January, when the squads have to be submitted to the AFC, which could force a re-think.

Muscat has the unenviable job of choosing just three players out of Besart Berisha, Gui Finkler, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Kosta Barbarouses and Matthieu Delpierre.

While there had been some conjecture over the eligibility of Daniel Georgievski. given his decision to represent Macedonia at national team level, it is understood that he won’t be classified as a visa player, thus eliminating another possible headache for Muscat.

The former Victory skipper will need to weigh up form, fitness, depth and team structure when determining his final three. Only one of those five, Besart Berisha, is a guaranteed selection.

Delpierre, who will turn 35 during the group stage, may be one to be sacrificed.

At his age and with his size, he may not cope well with the rigours of as many as 17 games in a two-month period, with regular long-haul flights across Australia as well as those to Japan, China and Korea.

If Nick Ansell is back fit and playing, or even if he’s not, the Frenchman could be one to make way.

This leaves Muscat deciding between two of Ben Khalfallah, Barbarouses and Finkler.

Both Ben Khalfallah and Barbarouses operate as wingers – will Muscat opt to take two players with similar skill-sets, or just one and rely on the likes of Archie Thompson and Connor Pain to fill the void on the opposite flank?

Then there’s Finkler, the unlucky man to miss out in 2014, who has proven again this season how dangerous he is in the final third, especially from set pieces.

But Muscat could decide to play Oliver Bozanic further forward, and deploy captain Carl Valeri, and Rashid Mahazi, who has excelled deputising for his injured skipper in recent weeks, as the deeper lying midfielders?

My feeling is that it will be Delpierre and Barbarouses to be the unfortunate two to miss out.

The other option available to Muscat is signing a player from an Asian nation to fill the plus one position, permitted in the ACL.

Victory could also look to make use of the A-League’s guest player rules, which means that any guest player doesn’t count towards the foreign quota, and sign a player for a 14-game guest stint and the ACL campaign.

If Delpierre is to miss out then they’ll need some defensive cover and the likes of Japanese internationals Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Masahiko Inoha would be more than capable replacements.

Tulio, a member of the Urawa Reds side that won the ACL in 2007, has over 400 appearances in the J.League, mostly with Urawa and Nagoya Grampus.

The Brazilian-born defender, now 34 and set to be released by Nagoya, was a regular in Japan’s defence alongside Yuji Nakazawa between 2006 and 2010, and in recent years he has proven to be quite the threat going forward, scoring almost 40 goals in his six seasons with Nagoya.

A fiery character who is not afraid to speak his mind, Tulio would add invaluable experience and quality to what is, minus Delpierre, a largely inexperienced defence.

Inoha, who briefly played for Hadjuk Split in Croatia in 2011 and can play as a central defender or at fullback, has amassed over 150 appearances in the J.League, winning two titles with Kashima in 2008 and 2009.

He was also a member of the Japanese side that defeated Australia to win the 2011 Asian Cup.

At just 30, he has plenty of football left in him after being released by Jubilo Iwata at the end of the recent J2 season.

Meanwhile, like his good friend Muscat, the scenario facing Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold is just as daunting.

Milos Ninkovic, Filip Holosko, Milos Dimitrijevic, Mickael Tavares and Jacques Faty make up their foreign contingent and Arnold will have to disappoint two by leaving them out.

Fortunately Shane Smeltz, courtesy of his Australian citizenship, will be classified as an Australian and won’t count towards their foreign quota.

As marquee, you imagine Holosko will make the cut, although his form to start the A-League season hasn’t been anything to write home about. But his goal last week against Adelaide showed his quality.

With Matt Jurman, Seb Ryall and Zac Anderson as central defensive options, Jacques Faty will likely be one player that misses out. His recent issues with soft tissue injuries count against him too.

Dimitrijevic and Tavares both play in central midfield and with Brandon O’Neill stepping up this season, it would appear likely that one of those two will also miss out.

If Faty is to miss, Arnold might opt for the more defensive minded Tavares, especially with the likes of Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande in their group.

That would mean selecting Holosko, Tavares and Ninkovic as their three foreign players.

The other option would be to leave out Ninkovic in favour of Faty to ensure defensive stability, and look to sign an Asian attacking player to fill the plus one role.

A few options spring to mind, namely Korean Kim Bo-kyung.

Highly rated during his time at Cerezo Osaka, Kim made the move to Europe in 2012, joining Cardiff City before moving to Wigan Athletic earlier this year.

He returned to Japan in the second-half of this year, joining relegation-threatened Matsumoto Yamaga.

With over 30 national team caps to his name, Kim is on the lookout for a new club after ending his time with Yamaga, who got relegated to J2.

Capable of playing on the wing or more centrally, he is the prototypical South Korean winger – fast and direct, with silky skills and quick feet.

The other option is two-time AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov, with the Uzbek international set to be released from his Korean club, Ulsan Hyundai, and he would add a touch of class to Sydney’s attack.

Australian audiences know all too well his quality, and while he is slowing down a little at 33 years of age, his skill has not deserted him.

His experience in the ACL and knowledge of Sydney’s likely group opponents, Pohang Steelers, would prove invaluable.

With only three foreign players allowed, or four if you have an Asian player on your books, it is often this selection that can make all the difference to a team’s fortunes.

Select the right players and they can take you a long way.

Think about Dejan Damjanovic for FC Seoul in 2013, Everton Ribeiro and Lima for Al Ahli this year, or Elkeson and Muriqui for Guangzhou Evergrande.

No pressure, guys.