“This is one of the major things [I came for] – playing in competitions like this which are prestigious. I’ve played foreign teams before but not in competitive football like this.”
Le Fondre is buzzing for the Champions League, and not even the long-haul flight to Japan could dull his enthusiasm. “It’s a long journey, but I had one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had – about 12 hours last night,” he said. “It weren’t too bad.”
Coach Steve Corica will be hoping that rest will translate into goals from his marquee man. After a scoreless draw at home with Ulsan Hyundai last week, it’s not quite must-win territory for Sydney – but perhaps it’s can’t-lose.
Kawasaki Frontale have won the J.League for the last two years running, and finished 12 points clear on top of the ladder last season, but aren’t exactly in golden touch at the moment.
They have drawn all three of their matches so far in the new domestic campaign – they came close to a maiden win on Sunday, but were ultimately held 2-2 by Ange Postecoglou’s Yokohama F. Marinos on Sunday after a 95th-minute leveller.
In their opening Champions League match last week, they were beaten 1-0 by Shanghai SIPG. If there is a good time to come up against a Japanese powerhouse on their own home patch, it might be now.
Captained by fringe Samurai Blue forward Yu Kobayashi, Kawasaki’s other major attacking threat is Brazilian Leandro Damiao, who scored 10 goals for Internacional last season and already has two from three J.League matches.
But despite sweeping all before them domestically, Kawasaki have struggled to replicate that same success in Asia and have never made it past the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Last year, they were drawn in the same group as Melbourne Victory but drew 2-2 at home and were beaten 1-0 at AAMI Park.
Le Fondre believes they are nothing Sydney can’t handle, a view coloured by what he said was a comfortable first-up challenge against Ulsan. “I thought we were the better team,” he said.
“It’s not a step up too far for us. We matched them and bettered them on the pitch and were unlucky not to get the result. I don’t think we’ve got anything to fear in this competition by any means.”
Le Fondre said his strike combination with Reza Ghoochannejhad was coming along nicely. “The last game we played in we were bouncing off each other nicely, creating opportunities,” he said.
“We just couldn’t create that clear-cut chance for either of us to take, really. But it’s blossoming well. If you look at the Wellington game as well, we were setting each other up and I think you can see it’s two good footballers who are on the same wavelength.”
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.