SINGAPORE — Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande will look to sweep aside the challenge of Central Coast Mariners and book their spot in the AFC Champions League last eight for the second year running this week.
The Chinese domestic double-winner hold a 2-1 advantage from last week’s round of 16 first leg, when goals from Lucas Barrios and Muriqui secured a stylish win at the Mariners’ ground in Gosford, Australia.
Attractive, free-flowing football, inspired by their South American attack, has made well-heeled Guangzhou — the “Manchester United of Asia,” according to Mariners assistant coach Phil Moss — many people’s favorites for the title. But Wednesday, the Mariners will do their utmost to deny the Chinese team and dash Lippi’s hopes of adding to his career coaching haul of one World Cup, one UEFA Champions League trophy and five Serie A titles with Juventus.
“There’s no hiding the fact that it’s going to be tough, but they are at home and they’ve got all the pressure on them — they’re expected to win the AFC Champions League,” said Mariners coach Graham Arnold.
“We’ve got to go out and put in our best performance. We’re 90 minutes away from reaching the last eight in Asia and that’s the way we’ve got to look at it,” he added, according to a club press release.
Guangzhou, which reached the quarterfinals on debut last year, warmed up with a 4-1 win Saturday over Liaoning Whowin — China’s last Asian champions, in 1990 — while the Mariners are in post-season after claiming the Australian title in April.
South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, the only previous Champions League winners still standing, also have an uphill battle against Japanese team Kashiwa Reysol after going down 2-0 at home last week.
Thailand’s unheralded Buriram United is tantalizingly close to the quarterfinals after shocking Uzbek giant Bunyodkor 2-1 in the first leg last week.
And South Korean champion FC Seoul faces a nerve-jangling evening Tuesday when it hosts China’s Beijing Guoan, with the scores deadlocked at 0-0 from last week.
Among the other fixtures, Saudi Arabia’s Al-Shabab holds a 2-1 advantage over Al-Gharafa, and Iran’s Esteghlal look home and dry after scoring four away goals in its 4-2 win over Al-Shabab Al-Arabi of the UAE.
Saudi Arabia's other teams Al-Ahli and Al-Hilal enjoy mixed luck as honors are even (1-1) for Ahli and El Jaish of Qatar, while Hilal trails 0-1 to Lekhwiya of Qatar. — AFP