Lippi, Guangzhou face test in Asian Champs League
SEOUL, South Korea (AP)
Former World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi faces his biggest test since taking control of Guangzhou Evergrande when the Chinese club travels to Al Ittihad for Wednesday's first leg of their 2012 Asian Champions League quarterfinal.
The Italian was hired by the big-spending Super League champion in May, with one of his goals being to give China a first continental title since 1989.
However Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia provides a sizeable obstacle. The team from Jeddah won the 2004 and 2005 continental title and reached the final in 2009. Like Guangzhou it has a solid base of domestic players complemented by expensive international stars, but unlike Guangzhou, it is unbeaten in the Asian Champions League this year.
Evergrande squeezed through the group stage courtesy of a last-minute penalty in the final game. Lippi, who took Juventus to the 1996 UEFA Champions League title and Italy to the 2006 World Cup, arrived just days after.
Captain Zheng Zhi believes that Lippi, 64, can take Guangzhou, who lifted the 2011 Chinese title at a canter and is leading the 2012 standings, to greater success.
''He has made a lot of changes to the way we train and also the tactics,'' said Zheng. ''For me, this is a positive change and I believe he can lead us to a new level.''
If Guangzhou can progress past the Jeddah club and reach the semifinals, it will equal the 2005 performance of Shenzhen as the best by a Chinese club since the tournament changed to its current structure.
''The results of the past are in the past, but we can change the future and we are ready for that challenge. All the teams are equal to us,'' said Zheng.
Chinese internationals Zhang Linpeng and Zhao Xuri are suspended for the first leg and it is unclear whether big-money signing Lucas Barrios will play. The Paraguay international, who arrived from German champion Borussia Dortmund, is reportedly keen on a swift return to Europe
Adelaide United is the sole Australian representative in the quarterfinal and hosts Bunyodkor. The A-League club will be buoyed by the memory of its defeat of the Uzbekistan champion in the semifinal in 2008 and having finished above Bunyodkor in the group stage earlier this year.
''The first game is at home and depending on that score, we're going to have to go away and battle to get through,'' said Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic.
''It's going to be tough going over to Tashkent, but we're looking to get a result at home first and then go from there.''
While Adelaide reached the final four years ago, no Australian team has lifted the trophy.
Saudi Arabian giant Al Hilal has not done so since 2000 and travels to South Korea to take on Ulsan Horangi. K-League clubs have won nine continental championships in total, including two of the past three.
''The K-League has a good pedigree in this competition and we want to continue that,'' said Ulsan captain Kwak Tae-hwi. ''There is a long way to go before we think about that however and we know that Al Hilal is a very strong team with a lot of experience in this competition.''
Kwak reserved a special mention for Al Hilal's Korean striker Yoo Byung-soo. Yoo scored four in Al Hilal's 7-1 win over Baniyas of the United Arab Emirates in the second round and has been joined in attack since by Brazilian striker Wesley Lopes da Silva who has scored seven goals in five games for his new club.
The Riyadh team also changed coach over the summer with former Paris Saint-Germain boss Antoine Kombouare replacing Ivan Hasek.
In the remaining fixture Al Ahli, Saudi Arabia's third representative in the final eight, travels to Iran to take on 2007 runner-up Sepahan.