ERNIE Merrick has witnessed enough football in south-east Asia to respect Indonesian champions Persija Jakarta.
But the experienced mentor is adamant the Jets have the wherewithal to handle whatever their “tricky” opponents throw at them.
The Jets take on Persija Jakarta in a sudden death Asian Champions League play-off at McDonald Jones Stadium on Tuesday night.
The winner earns a trip to Japan and a showdown with Kashima Antlers for a place in Group E of the prestigious 32-team tournament.
“Indonesian teams are so technical and so quick, and they overwhelm you in attack,” said Merrick, who steered Melbourne Victory in three ACL campaigns.
“It will be a tough game. A lot of people will be surprised at the quality of football. They can afford very good players from Europe and South America. We have done our homework. Marko Simic plays up front for them. On the left they have a Brazilian Beto and on the right is Riko [Simanjuntak], who is a traditional tricky winger. He is clever, technically good, quick.”
Merrick, after a deflating 1-all draw with Wellington last Thursday amid a hectic schedule, feared that the Jets would be flat for the battle.
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But any concerns were allayed after a “sharp” training session on Sunday.
“You usually get a good indication on how well they have recovered by the intensity of the training,” Merrick said. “They are up for it. I thought they would have been exhausted and I might need to rest a few players.
“I had to replace Ronny Vargas against Phoenix because he was getting really bad cramp. I asked if he was up for 90 minutes against Persija? He said he was the most excited he has been despite having played for Venezuela, Club Brugge and Aderletch. It is a whole new challenge that he is desperate to be a part of. That is indicative of a lot of the boys who have never had the chance to play in a confederation club tournament like the Asian Champions League.”
However, preparations haven’t gone exactly to plan. Jason Hoffman twisted his ankle at training and is unlikely to start.
“He changed direction and his studs got caught in the grass,” Merrick said. “We will leave it to the last minute, but it’s not looking good. We have Kaine Sheppard who can step in with no problems.”
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Merrick is also considering recalling Ben Kantarovski at the base of midfield.
“We won’t change too much for this game but there will be a couple of changes,” Merrick said.
“Ben is definitely in contention. To have someone with a physical presence and strength in the middle of the park is a big plus. It can be fairly intimidating. We have a big strong team and he adds to that.”
Persija Jakarta are on the road for a second game after beating Singapore United 3-1 last Tuesday to book a date with the Jets.
“The game against Home United, they didn’t shut the game down,” Merrick said.
“It was a very open game and they committed high numbers forward, plus the two fullbacks.
“It is hard to say whether they will play that way again. It is good to see that they are an attacking team who play to win and commit forward. I think it will be similar to our last league game against Wellington – very open and end to end.”
Progression to the group stage would end a 10-year absence from Asia for the Jets.
They earned automatic qualificiation after winning the A-League in 2008 and made it out of the group stage to the round of 16 where they went down to eventual champions Pohang Steeler.
“I think having a champions league qualifier in this town is good all round,” Merrick said. “It would be great to get a big crowd along. Persija will be exciting and a real handful. It will be a very tough match for both teams.”