Star-studded Guangzhou wary of Australian MarinersBy JOHN DUERDEN , Associated Press
May. 12, 2013 9:38 PM ET
Australia's Central Coast Mariners operate under a salary cap of $2.48 million, approximately a quarter of what Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande pays Argentine star Dario Conca.
It is then little surprise that the A-League team is the clear underdog going into Wednesday's first leg of their second round tie series in the Asian Champions League.
Evergrande is coached by Marcello Lippi, who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup and Juventus to the 1996 UEFA Champions League, and the star-studded team is desperate to follow two successive domestic titles with the continental championship. China has yet to win the Asian Champions League since its inception in 2003.
Central Coast may hold the Australian title, but few give the team a chance against the big-spending Guangzhou over the two legs of this round of 16.
"Obviously we have a small salary cap, and they have a lot of players on big money, so they're favorites and we're underdogs, but on the day you never know," said Central Coast captain John Hutchinson ahead of the first leg in Gosford, Australia. "We do not fear them; we're just excited about playing the big team from China."
The Australians have an advantage after undergoing a two-week training camp for the game, while Guangzhou has been busy with domestic commitments and currently sits on top of the Chinese Super League table, unbeaten after eight games.
"Guangzhou is the Manchester United of Asia," Mariners' assistant coach Phil Moss said. "But the beauty and romance of cup competitions the world over has us primed for the challenge and in the mood to send shockwaves around the globe."
Guangzhou, helped by an investment of over $60 million, has won the last two Chinese titles and was narrowly defeated in the 2012 Asian Champions League quarterfinals.
"We are expecting a very tough game in Australia," said Lippi, who was coach of Italy when it eliminated Australia in the second round of the 2006 World Cup. "But we will do our best to get a good result to take back home with us for the second leg."
As well as Conca, signed in 2011 when the playmaker was reportedly made the third-highest paid player in the world, Evergrande boasts Brazilian stars Muriqui and Elkeson, and in 2012 signed Paraguay star Lucas Barrios from German champion Borussia Dortmund. As well as the foreign contingent, Guangzhou's eleven contains a number of Chinese internationals.
"They are amazing players. We've seen a few DVDs of them and they are fantastic players. They are players that you can't leave alone because if you leave them alone and give them time on the ball they are good enough to destroy us," Hutchinson said.
Guangzhou finished top of its group ahead of Jeonbuk Motors. The experienced South Koreans take on Japan's only representative in the knockout stage Kashiwa Reysol. Kashiwa was one of the most impressive teams in the first round and defeated Jeonbuk 5-1 in 2012.
South Korea and China are the only two nations in the eastern half of the draw - the 16 teams are still divided in two along geographical lines - with more than one representative. FC Seoul travels to Beijing Guoan on Tuesday for the first leg of what promises to be a tight clash.
Buriram United of Thailand is Southeast Asia's first representative in the knockout stage since 2003 and takes on Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan.
The achievement was overshadowed by the fact that following the 2-2 draw in Seoul that confirmed Buriram's progression to the knockout stage, owner Newin Chidchob fired long-serving coach Atthaphol Puspakom reportedly for not making substitutions at the right time.
"After the game I was called in by the club's management and asked why I had not made the change he wanted," Atthaphol explained to domestic media. "I explained I was afraid that it might have a detrimental effect on the team, tactically, so I preferred not to make the substitution. However, the management saw my inaction as failing to follow club policy, which has resulted in the split."
In West Asia, there are three games between teams from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Al Ahli lost the 2012 final 3-0 to Korea's Ulsan and is determined to go one better in 2013. El Jaish of Qatar stands between the team from Jeddah and the last eight.
Another Qatar Stars League team making its debut appearance in the knockout stage is Lekhwiya, who host two-time continental champion Al Hilal from Riyadh. Al Gharafa has plenty of experience in the competition and the Doha club, with new signing Harry Kewell from Australia, takes on Al Shabab.
There is more than one Al Shabab left in the tournament and the UAE version meets Iranian giants Esteghlal.