CENTRAL Coast captain Alex Wilkinson believes his team is physically and mentally prepared for tonight’s crunch Champions League clash with Nagoya Grampus in Japan.
With the Hyundai A-League over for another season and a full fortnight to prepare for the team's last match against Tianjin Teda in Gosford, the Mariners produced their sharpest display on record in Asia’s premier club competition to cruise to a classy 5-1 triumph.
With another win needed in the land of the rising sun to advance to the knockout stages of the prestigious tournament, Wilkinson said his side has benefitted from a lighter schedule of late, allowing the players to head to Nagoya physically and mentally prepared.
Now they only need some tactical fine-tuning to ready the Mariners for the must-win match.
“For most of the AFC Champions League we were playing Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday, and you saw when we got over to Korea it had caught up with us a bit,” said Wilkinson.
“It was the culmination of a few things that resulted in that bad loss (against Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma).
“The freshness is great. We showed against Tianjin that when the boys are fresh and the power is back in their legs it makes a big big difference. Now it’s just a matter of fine-tuning our tactics.”
The Mariners go into tonight's match with more knowledge about their opponents than they did the last time they met.
Coach, Graham Arnold went to Nagoya’s domestic clash against Vissel Kobe on Saturday to gain first-hand insights into how to break down the J-League giants.
And with Wilkinson expecting Dragan Stojkovic’s men to be far sharper than their last game, Arnold’s fact-finding mission may prove crucial.
“We played Nagoya quite a few weeks ago now and they were only in their second match of the season,” said the skipper.
“They probably weren’t as sharp as they are going to be this time. We are going to be expecting a much tougher test.
“We’ve had a few big games in the club’s history, obviously Grand Finals and playing for Premierships, but it definitely ranks up there (as one of the club’s biggest matches).
“Not a lot of people realise how big the Champions League is, but as a playing group we realise that to make the last 16 in Asia would be a huge achievement for the club.
“And with Adelaide already through, to have two Australian teams qualify for the last 16 in Asia would be a massive result for the A-League and show how much the A-League is improving.
"It would go a long way to getting more credit for the A-League around Asia."