Lippi's weary warriors brace for Saudi battle
Guangzhou coach refuses to make excuses ahead of Champions League clash in desert
Absentees and fatigue threaten to derail Guangzhou Evergrande's bid to become the first Chinese Super League side to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League since 2005, but head coach Marcello Lippi is refusing to make excuses ahead of his side's quarter-final, first-leg clash with Saudi Arabia powerhouses Al Ittihad.
Suspended duo Zhang Linpeng and Zhao Xuri will miss tonight's meeting with the two-time continental champions at the imposing Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium while Lippi has been forced to deal with the after-effects of several of his key players appearing for the national team in friendlies in Sweden and Brazil last week.
But despite the ever-increasing demands being made on the Chinese Super League champions' players, the World Cup-winning Italian remains stoic towards the task at hand.
"There are better ways to prepare for a match but the calendar was organised some months before and we had our players go to Sweden and Brazil and it didn't help us coming here, and the jetlag obviously because there is a five-hour time difference," he said.
"But we believe the Saudi Arabia national team have played a couple of matches, too, so we are all on the same page."
Captain Zheng Zhi, fullback Sun Xiang and striker Gao Lin all played in the 1-0 loss against Sweden last week before Zheng and Sun returned to China, leaving Gao as the only Guangzhou player to make the trip to Brazil for the 8-0 hammering in a friendly match in Recife.
Gao is expected to start while Lippi confirmed Lucas Barrios would be in his 18-man squad for the meeting with the Saudis despite concerns over the Paraguayan's form and fitness.
Lippi will also make a late decision on the make-up of his backline and, with Zhang missing, the likelihood is the defence will be reshuffled.
"We are going to play to win, we are not going to try and play defensively throughout the game," said Lippi. "Ultimately, what happens on the pitch is what decides the game.
"After the training session this evening I will probably pick one of the players who has not been with us for the last month, which is Feng Xiaoteng or Tang De-chao."