Western Sydney striker Brendon Santalab has been caught up in a probe into racial vilification but coach Tony Popovic says he’s likely to play on Saturday.
Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic says striker Brendon Santalab is likely to play in Saturday’s high-stakes A-League clash against Adelaide amid a racial vilification furore.
Santalab has been caught up in a probe into claims by Sydney FC midfielder Ali Abbas that he was the victim of slurs against his culture and religion during last week’s heated derby.
While the two players had a run-in after the game, Santalab has reportedly denied the allegations.
Football Federation Australia has given the accused Wanderers player until Monday to respond to the claims in what could be a lengthy dispute process.
Before then, however, the Wanderers must focus their attention on Saturday’s encounter with Adelaide at Parramatta Stadium.
Santalab was one of several players left behind as the Wanderers recorded an historic maiden Asian Champions League victory away to Chinese side Guizhou Renhe on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT).
Popovic also rested the likes of striker Tomi Juric, keeper Ante Covic, playmaker Shinji Ono and defenders Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Matthew Spiranovic in an effort to keep his charges fit with only five games remaining before the A-League finals.
Popovic, who arrived from China on Friday morning, said all his players would be assessed after a late afternoon training session.
He said he had not spoken to Santalab since last Saturday’s derby loss to the Sky Blues but the striker was likely to be included in the side to play the Reds.
“If he’s fit, yes,” Popovic said.
“We’ll asses him today like the rest of the group and if he’s fit and well he’ll be part of the squad.
“I haven’t seen Brendon since the game (against Sydney).
“I can’t make a comment at this time. There will be a time when I can but for now there’s a due process and I can’t say anything.”
Before their 3-1 defeat to the Sky Blues last week the Wanderers had lost 2-0 to Newcastle with errors creeping into their usually strong displays.
Chances of defending their Premier’s Plate suffered a blow with the back-to-back losses as league-leaders Brisbane widened the gap to 10 points.
The Wanderers were back to their ruthless best in what was a near-flawless showing in China and Popovic is hoping for a repeat performance against Adelaide.
“As a unit we defended really well, they kept their structure well against the Chinese outfit and it came through,” he said.
“Now we’ve just got to continue on with that and make sure that we create opportunities and if we do that than we know that we can beat anyone on our day.
“We have to eliminate those mistakes and we’ll have to do that again tomorrow because they have a strike force that will punish you.”