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Defenders key to all-Melbourne ALM semi

When Western United take on Melbourne Victory in the first leg of their A-League Men semi-final, many key moments could be decided by their star European centre-backs who know a thing or two about key games.

United host Victory at AAMI Park on Tuesday, with the reverse fixture at the same venue on Saturday.

Portuguese defender Roderick Miranda has marshalled Victory’s defence all season while Swiss counterpart Leo Lacroix has led United’s back four with aplomb.

Miranda played in Portugal’s 2011 Under-20 World Cup final loss to Brazil against the likes of Oscar, Philippe Coutinho, Alex Sandro and Danilo.

“We lost 3-2 but it was my first moment in the big stage against a big team with big players and wow, it was unbelievable,” he said.

“The environment around the game, the players in the sides, the tempo, the pace, everything.

“We lost the final but that was my first big memory and all the time, I remember that.”

Victory coach Tony Popovic hailed the “outstanding” Miranda, who has combined with Matthew Spiranovic, Brendan Hamill and Leigh Broxham at various times with ease.

“He’s probably the best central defender in the league,” Popovic said.

“He’s a leader, he has a great calming influence, great around the group. I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

Meanwhile, Lacroix was unfazed by the prospect of facing in-form Victory forwards Nick D’Agostino, Marco Rojas and Ben Folami.

“If we want to talk about strikers, I have played against many strikers: Aguero, Mbappe, Neymar,” he said.

“I don’t focus on who I’m playing against tomorrow, I focus on me.

“I won the Swiss Cup in 2015 with Sion, we played a semi-final with Hamburg against RB Leipzig.

“So I know how (to play) an important game like we’re gonna play tomorrow and I think all the team are ready for that.”

Victory have beaten United twice and drawn once this season.

But Popovic sounded a note of caution by pointing to Western overcoming a poor regular-season record against Wellington in winning in their elimination final.

“It’s another game. Yes, it’s a pressure game but it’s where we want to be. We now have a chance to win another important match,” he said.

“The stakes are higher, the pressure is higher, and that’s what we all want.

“At Melbourne Victory, this is where we want to be. We’re here now, we don’t want to just make up the numbers; we want to perform and get through to the grand final.”

Victory’s entire team bar Robbie Kruse is fit while United are without Alessandro Diamanti and Nikolai Topor-Stanley, while Rene Khrin (hamstring) is doubtful.

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