Evergreen Nigerian striker Peter Utaka looms as the biggest threat to Melbourne City’s hopes of kicking off its AFC Champions League campaign with a win at AAMI Park on Wednesday night.
Despite being 39, Utaka has scored 11 goals for Japanese second division club Ventforet Kofu this season.
It’s a goalscoring record that has City on high alert against the second-tier Kofu, who qualified for the Champions League by winning Japan’s Emperor’s Cup last season.
City coach Rado Vidosic said Utaka was among a handful of “fantastic” Kofu players that his side would have to nullify.
“They can hurt you at any moment of the game,” Vidosic said.
“It’s going to be a tough game. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
City goalkeeper Jamie Young promised his side would take “nothing for granted”.
“We’re going to have to be at our best … against quality opposition,” Young said.
“You want to be competing against the very best opposition. For me, it’s all very positive.”
Kofu currently sit in seventh spot on the J2 ladder, and have travelled to Melbourne after a 1-1 draw with Tokyo Verdy last Friday night.
City warmed up for the clash with a 2-1 Australia Cup quarter-final win over NPL South Australia side Metro Stars in Adelaide last Thursday.
Captain Jamie Maclaren, who didn’t travel to Adelaide, is expected to feature on Wednesday.
However, his fellow attacker Mathew Leckie is still sidelined after suffering a knee injury while in Socceroos camp in the United States less than two weeks ago.
It’s doubtful Leckie will be fit for the start of the A-League season, which begins on October 20.
However, while Leckie will return during the 2023-24 campaign, another of City’s forwards, Andrew Nabbout, will be unavailable for the entire season due to an Achilles injury.
With Nabbout sidelined, City last week signed Brazilian winger Leo Natel as an injury-replacement player on a one-year loan deal.
Originally published as Melbourne City cautious of damage ageless Ventforet Kofu attacker can cause in Champions League