Kenny Athiu eyes starting XI as dream Asian Champions League matchup nears

Kenny Athiu eyes starting XI as dream Asian Champions League matchup nears

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With a battle against Brazil stars Hulk and Oscar in the offing, Melbourne Victory striker Kenny Athiu is working to force his way into Kevin Muscat’s starting XI against Shanghai SIPG.

The striker featured for 18 minutes off the bench in Victory’s 3-3 draw against Ulsan Hyundai on Tuesday night, enjoying chances to make an impact by netting a winning goal.

However despite involvement with regularity, Athiu was not quite able to find that decisive moment of quality, and the fixture at AAMI Park ended in a 1-1 draw.

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The Asian Champions League game was just Athiu’s third in Victory colours since joining from NPL Victoria side Heidelberg United to much fanfare.

Athiu, 25, has struggled to tie down a regular spot on Muscat’s substitutes bench his his loan arrival, but his injection in favour of Besart Berisha marks a significant vote of confidence.

The talismanic Kosovan, whom Victory have called their No.1 striker since 2014, continues to hold that berth up front, and for a period, had done so with little competition.

But now with the door ajar, Athiu is hoping to build on his continental minutes and apply some healthy pressure on Berisha.

“Me and Bes are the two main strikers here, I’m here to provide some competition for him,” he said.

“He’s the main striker at the moment, I respect all that, but I’m here to put (on) the pressure.

“When the gaffer gives me the chance to play, I just try to prove that I am worthy of starting ahead of Bes.

“But that’s hard. I just have to keep working and hopefully it works out.”

Under Muscat, Victory are instantly recognisable in their trademark 4-2-3-1 formation, often shaping into a traditional 4-3-3.

Victory have rarely strayed from that setup, but Athiu was open to the possibility of playing as a dual strike force with Berisha.

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“I think it could work, but the way we play … we’ve got a system that we play and we’re sticking to that system at the moment,” Athiu added.

“But if it comes to that, obviously the boss has the option of throwing me and Bes up front.”

Victory fly to Shanghai on Saturday to face the might – and wealth – of Chinese Super League club SIPG, littered with globally acclaimed talent.

Brazilians Hulk and Oscar stand out, however, and for Athiu, facing the former Zenit St Petersburg and Chelsea men would be a dream come true.

“I’ve only seen them on TV, so it’s one of those things you can dream of,” Athiu said.

“But that’s the greatest thing about this competition, you get to play against great players around the world.”

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