Melbourne City’s AFC Champions League (AFC) campaign got off to disappointing start as they were held to a goalless draw by Japanese side Ventforet Kofu.
The A-League outfit went into the Group H game as the bookmakers’ favourites to record a victory, but they were unable to break down their dogged opponents.
Despite the result, leading Aussie betting sites are still confident about City’s hopes of making it through to the knockout stage of the competition. The main threat to their hopes of winning the group will likely be Buriram United, who delivered a winning return for sports bettors with a 4-1 victory over Zhejiang FC in their opening game.
The Thai League outfit are now the bookies’ favourites to claim top spot in the group, with City rated as the team most likely to qualify alongside them for the last-16. However, the A-League side will need to step up on what they showed against Kofu if they are to reward punters who keep the faith.
Veteran City goalkeeper Jamie Young was forced to make several excellent saves as Kofu took advantage of rustiness in the home ranks to apply plenty of pressure. City created a handful of chances of their own, but were denied by New Zealand international goalie Michael Woud.
City captain Jamie Maclaren admitted that City were underwhelming, but believes a lack of match practice at the start of the season scuppered their hopes of picking up three points.
“I think in a way it’s two points dropped because we’re at home and you expect to always win but it’s early doors for us, we’re in pre-season still and that’s the positives we’ll take,” Maclaren said.
“In comparison, they’re 30-odd games into their season. Onwards and upwards, we’re still undefeated and we move onto the Chinese game.”
City’s much-changed line-up saw eight players make their home debuts after joining the club during the close season – a factor which undoubtedly contributed to the disjointed performance.
They will be eager to step things up on their second outing in the competition in China on Wednesday, October 4, where they will face Zheijang FC.
Maclaren highlighted that the sloppy nature of their passing allowed Kofu to dominate proceedings, but vowed that the team would improve significantly in their next AFC match.
“I have to be mindful that it’s a new group – to play this style, it does take time,” Mclaren. “Being at home we want to be on the front foot and at times we were outplayed.
“We’ll work on the training pitch to rectify things. It’s nice to be back at AAMI Park but, obviously, it’s two points dropped, if you want to look at it like that – especially at home. They are a good side – we’re never going to underestimate them and we’ll respect that.
“It’s a new group here – we’ve got 13 or so new players and we need to gel. A clean sheet is great, but we’re not creating enough, so that’s something we need to work on.”
Zhejiang’s heavy defeat against Buriram in their first match will undoubtedly give City confidence they can take something from their upcoming game. Despite the setback, the top online bookies rate the Chinese Super League side as the favourites to win on home soil.
However, City head coach Rado Vidosic believes his team will benefit from being put under the cosh by Kofu and thinks his team can upset the odds in China.
“I’m thrilled that we had this sort of intensive game at this part of our pre-season,” Vidosic said. “The first half it took us a little bit by surprise, the speed of Kofu’s movement, the speed of the play, the ball speed. I think we were second to everything.
“But in the second half I think we raised our intensity and we matched them. So I’m very, very pleased with our effort, with the output. And I think the draw at the end was a fair result.”
City follow up the Zhejiang fixture with a visit to Buriram later the same month. They host the Thai club at the start of November, before rounding off their group stage campaign against Kofu (A) and Zhejiang (H).