Preview: A continental showdown

The last time we played an AFC Champions League match at Newcastle Stadium was back in May 2009.

On that evening, late goals to Sasho Petrovski and Sean Rooney secured a crucial 2-1 win over a Beijing Guoan side which featured Griffiths brothers Joel and Ryan.

Now, almost ten years on, continental football is back in the Hunter and it’s the Indonesian champions, Persija Jakarta, who are in town for a crunch knock-out clash.

PROFILE: Who are Persija Jakarta?

This game, and potentially qualification to the AFC Champions League Group Stage, has been pencilled in by a number of players as a potential shot in the arm to a stop-start season so far.

The latest twist in said season was last Thursday night, when the Jets faithful were treated to a frenetic and thrilling 1-1 draw with Wellington Phoenix.

Tuesday night’s impending encounter, the second of potentially six games in 17 days, is another chapter in what has been a dizzying period for Ernie Merrick’s side.

Marko Simic Persija Jakarta
Marko Simic is Jakarta's target man.

Our opponents in the Preliminary Stage encounter, Persija Jakarta, qualified for Preliminary Round 2 after a resounding 3-1 win over Singaporean champions, Home United last Tuesday.

Their league season doesn’t start until May, but they did claim a big aggregate win in the Indonesian Cup over a third-division opponent in the weeks preceding.

Team news

Injury has largely evaded the Jets in the lead-up to this mammoth encounter, leaving Ernie Merrick with just about a full hand to play with.

A suspension for yellow card accumulation means that Jason Hoffman is likely to see serious minutes, so too Venezuelan trickster Ronny Vargas who is chomping at the bit to play AFC Champions League football.

The only player unavailable through injury for the clash is Joey Champness, who is battling to overcome a hamstring injury but is expected back in the near future.

Jair is also unavailable for the clash, due to selection regulations.

AFC 2019

From the coach

“To play Persija Jakarta for the Group Stage of the AFC Champions League, we’re really looking forward to it and I’m sure they’re a good team,” Ernie Merrick said.

“It won’t be easy, but Tuesday night will be very exciting. The supporters in Indonesia are enormous, they’re very passionate about their football, and it’s booming.

“I got a taste of it working with the Hong Kong national team for a year. The standard is very good, very technical, and they’ll be an exciting team to play against.

“Ronny [Vargas] gives you an indication of the feeling in the camp… I spoke to him, asked if he was up for it, and he said he was the most excited he’d ever been for a football match.

“It’s a whole new challenge which he’s keen to be a part of, and that’s the same for a lot of boys who have never had a chance to play continental football.

“Persija will be a handful, but we’ve got the ability to go through. Anyone who says they’ll be a walkover doesn’t know football in Asia… there are no pushovers in the Champions League.”