Muscat hopeful of Victory's Champions League progress

Melbourne Victory won't play their first Asian Champions League match until February next year - but preparations for the club to "have a real crack" at the continent's most important club competition began in the depths of a Melbourne winter.

Coach Kevin Muscat was sounding confident about Victory's ability to navigate a group containing newly crowned Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale, South Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai and a play-off qualifier - most likely Shanghai SIPG - when he contemplated the draw on Thursday morning.

And, he said, split rounds brought in by the FFA to give A-League teams some breathing space ahead of ACL matches along with better knowledge of how to navigate the pitfalls of playing in Asia meant Victory was now better prepared to handle the challenge.

"Physically [conditioning coach] Anthony Crea and the staff have started on things pre-season to make sure we are in the best possible shape. [Football manager] Paul Trimboli will start on the logistics of the whole thing. We want to give the players the best opportunity to progress.

"The reality is that you are always going to face good teams [but] it's a good group. We are excited, looking forward to it.

"Logistically we have got to make sure we get it right. Paul Trimboli is across in Malaysia [where the draw was made on Wednesday night] at the moment working on that.

"There are some small problems we need to sort out in terms of the travel, but I think all in all it's a good draw for us and I am pleased."

The FFA's decision to introduce split rounds so that teams playing in the ACL get a break before their matches is a significant change, he said.

"It's not perfect, but if we compare it to what has been dealt up in the past it's a significant improvement. The FFA have given it a lot of thought in meetings we have had in the past. I am glad they have got the point now.

"Asian football has improved, but I think equally we have improved.

"Our last opportunity in the competition we progressed [to the knockout stage] for the first time, we had a nice taste and we know what that's like. We got beaten 3-2 over two legs by Jeonbuk, who were the eventual champions, and it was a good hit-out for us, a good tournament for us. We want to progress again."

"If we look at other competitions, some get the weekend off, they cancel games if it's too tight for the preparation. We have got a couple of those opportunities where we don't have games at the weekend this time round. It evens things up a bit."

Muscat said he would be considering all options to strengthen his squad in the lead-up to the ACL kick-off.

"You are always looking at opportunities [but] there are a lot of factors that have to go into the mix with that.

"Some windows open up, one next week, all the rest of the windows in January. We will have to wait and see."

The traditional knock on the ACL has been that while the opponents are good and the standard of football is higher than in the A-League, Australian crowds are lukewarm about going to games.

Muscat believes it's not so much a lack of interest in the ACL, more a symptom of an aversion to midweek sporting events.

"I think even if you see domestic games midweek, it hasn't taken off. I don't think it's people discriminating against the actual competition, I think midweek football has been a tough sell, that's when the A-League games are on.

"Hopefully our progress last time [will galvanise fans]. This is our sixth attempt now, and we feel we have got to the point where we feel we really want to give it a good crack, and our last opportunity gave us that.

"Hopefully there is enough media interest, people are educated in the competition to support it well this time round."

Victory met Kawasaki Frontale in the 2010 ACL, losing 4-0 in Japan but winning 1-0 in Melbourne, and played Shanghai SIPG in their last foray in the competition in 2018, winning 2-1 in Melbourne and losing 3-1 in China.

This story Muscat hopeful of Victory's Champions League progress first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.