What the Mariners must do to beat Guangzhou
The Central Coast Mariners pose for a photo before kickoff. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)
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Some will say Central Coast have no chance of beating Guangzhou in the AFC Champions League. If Graham Arnold is smart, he will use such sentiment to his team’s advantage.
The result of Australian sides underestimating Asian opposition in the ACL makes for ugly reading.
Melbourne Victory lost 3-1 to Thai outfit Chonburi. Newcastle Jets were crushed 6-0 by Pohang Steelers. Sydney FC were thumped 3-0 at home by Kashima Antlers. Gamba Osaka tore Adelaide apart.
The Mariners arguably started the trend in 2009 when they somehow missed the memo that Kawasaki Frontale have one of the most productive scouting set-ups in Asia.
The end result was a crushing 5-0 away win for Frontale, for whom North Korean international Jong Tae-Se and Brazilian duo Renatinho and Juninho ran riot.
Unless the Mariners have given some serious thought to how they’re going to approach their two-legged clash with Guangzhou, the tie could end in another bloodbath.
The Cantonese moneybags – let’s be honest, it is a factor – will bring a squad to Australia so jam-packed with talent that it should give Mariners fans nightmares.
Everywhere you look there’s a star. From Chinese number one Zeng Cheng in goal to the well-travelled Zheng Zhi bossing the midfield and fan-favourite Gao Lin up front.
Then there’s the foreign contingent; Kim Young-Gwon, experienced Muriqui, ex-Borussia Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios and jewel in the crown, Dario Conca.
It’s Conca the Mariners must be wary of, with the Argentine one of the most talented South American players of his generation never to play in Europe.
However, Guangzhou’s star-studded line-up could also prove to be their downfall.
Barrios has made little attempt to fit in, yet the Paraguayan international is likely to start the expense of the dangerous Gao.
Meanwhile, the Chinese side left Brazilian youngster Elkeson out of their ACL squad, and he responded by scoring 13 goals in his first seven Chinese Super League fixtures.
Needless to say, the southern side aren’t exactly short of form, and according to Wild East Football’s Guangzhou expert Ian Fuchs, the Cantonese club are in it to win it, when it comes to the ACL.
“I think club owner Xu Jiayin takes it very seriously indeed,” Fuchs said.
“Guangzhou have won the Chinese Super League in each of the past two seasons and have started this one in exceptional form. He wants continental glory now.”
However there are some cracks in the façade – albeit small – and it’s these that the Mariners must take advantage of.
“Probably the most impressive Chinese player is attacking right-back Zhang Linpeng, who is only 23 but already a national team stalwart,” Fuchs says.
“His main flaw is his temper – he’ll miss the first leg against the Mariners because he got sent off for retaliation in the fifth group game against Urawa.”
And a quick look at the goals conceded during the group stages suggests that defence could be Guangzhou’s Achilles’ heel.
They’ve got Feng Xiaoting and South Korean tough nut Kim Young-Gwon, but the entire back four has looked vulnerable when exposed to pace down the flanks, particularly in the 3-2 away defeat to Urawa Reds.
The goal conceded on the road at Thai side Muangthong United was farcical and when the Guangzhou defenders backed off Kim Jung-Woo on their trip to Jeonju, the wily veteran responded by cracking home a right-footed strike in off the post.
In other words, the Guangzhou defence is far from impregnable and the common denominator in all of those goals is that they were conceded away from home.
The Mariners will almost certainly need to score in Gosford to progress.
They’ll also need to keep Conca better shackled than they did Kashiwa playmaker Leandro Domingues.
Additionally, they’ll need a healthy dose of luck if they are to see off one of the genuine favourites for the title.
But for all the financial disparity between the two sides, this tie will be settled over two legs, like any other.
Graham Arnold would do well to remind his players of that, because there’s a good chance Marcello Lippi may well forget.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman