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May 19, 2009

Jets take aim at ACL knockout stage

Reigning A-League wooden spooners Newcastle will set out to become only the second Australian side to reach the Asian Champions League knockout stages when they face Ulsan Hyundai in Korea on Wednesday night.

The Jets need at least a draw from one of their biggest-ever matches to secure second place in Group E and book a round of 16 knockout showdown with either Kawasaki Frontale or Pohang Steelers on June 24.

The new-look Jets squad, which has ten new faces from their dismal 2008/09 A-League campaign, has impressed in its maiden ACL campaign and will be confident of progression having beaten Ulsan 2-0 when they met in Newcastle in March.

But they are aware getting a result at the 45,000-seater Munsu World Cup Stadium will take a mighty effort.

"We know we need only a point but we know that's still going to be a very, very tough ask," midfielder Jason Hoffman said.

"We're not going to sit back and wait for them to come onto us because, if you do that, you'll find yourself caught in trouble.

"We'll make sure we do lock up things a lot tighter in defence, that will be the focus, but we've got enough pace and people going forward so we're hoping to hit them on the counter attack."

Newcastle, who qualified for the tournament by winning the 2007/08 A-League title, will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Adelaide United, who raised the bar for Australian teams in reaching the ACL final last year.

"For us to get out of the group, it's going to be really good for us and for Australia, putting Newcastle on the scene of world soccer," Hoffman said.

"There'll be a lot of people back in Newcastle very proud if we can get a point."

The Jets are set to welcome back former Lazio midfielder Fabio Vignaroli from a hamstring injury after he trained fully with the side in Korea this week.

Dutch striker Donny de Groot is out with a hamstring problem but outspoken defender Ljubo Milicevic is expected to shake of a groin injury which forced him to miss training on Monday.

Ulsan have also been hit by injury and will be without Korean internationals Kim Young-Kwang and Yeom Ki-Hun, as well as captain Yoo Kyoung-Youl.

The Korean side can still progress from the group if they take all three points from the match and Jets coach Gary van Egmond expected them to try and use their physicality against his side.

"They have some big players," van Egmond said.

"It will be important to ensure that physically we're not overpowered but also to make sure we don't get into a battle with them and try to also put the ball on the deck and play some football as well."

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