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Mar 19, 2012

Kennedy big Mariners threat in ACL soccer

The Central Coast Mariners are wary of the aerial threat posed by Socceroos striker Josh Kennedy in their home Asian Champions League clash with Japan heavyweights Nagoya Grampus on Wednesday night.

But that's only one of their concerns with the visitors boasting a star-studded line-up that includes 2010 World Cup players in goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki, defender Markus Tulio Tanaka and attacking weapon Keiji Tamada as well as Kennedy.

Mariners coach Graham Arnold was under no illusions about the size of the challenge for his A-League leaders, who played a scoreless away draw with Chinese team Tianjin Teda in their ACL opener.

"It's about another two levels up from the A-League," Arnold said, referring to Japan's J-League competition.

"Overall, their individual quality is fantastic. In their first Champions League game, they played very open, very mobile attacking football and they're very quick.

"We just need to make sure we stay compact and not give them much space.

"They have six or seven Japanese internationals, plus some very good visa players as well as Josh Kennedy."

"Even if we get a point against the No.1 seed in our group, it's good ... (but) make no mistake, we'll be going out to win the game at home."

The Mariners have been praised for their defensive structure but they will need all of the experience and nous of Patrick Zwaanswijk and skipper Alex Wilkinson to combat the threat posed by Kennedy and his colleagues.

Since linking with Nagoya Grampus in 2009, lanky Socceroos' front man Kennedy has topped the J-League scorers' list in consecutive seasons.

"If you can limit the service to him, it negates a lot of the danger," said Wilkinson.

"I might carry a little stepladder around with me that I can run and jump off to try and win some headers against him."

Arnold's men face a tough away final-round battle with Wellington Phoenix on Sunday which can clinch the A-League competition top spot and he will have to carefully monitor players' fitness amid such a demanding schedule.

He also relished the ACL match as a great opportunity to see how some of younger players coped against such opposition.

"I want to throw as many of them out there as I can. I think this type of football will test the younger boys and see where they're at," he said.

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