Marcello Lippi upbeat despite Guangzhou losing 4-2 to Al Ittihad
Evergrande coach insists a fully fit squad will be able to defeat Al Ittihad and reach the last four
Michael Church in Jeddah
Guangzhou coach Marcello Lippi insists the big-spending club's AFC Champions League dream is not over despite a two-goal deficit from the first leg of their quarter-final.
Even for a club of apparently limitless resources, the demands of a punishing schedule are beginning to take their toll on Guangzhou Evergrande and their pursuit of continental glory.
With 90 minutes left against two-time former winners Al Ittihad, of Saudi Arabia, Lippi's team will be forced to overcome a 4-2 deficit if they are to be the first Chinese side to reach the last four of the competition since 2005.
Despite twice silencing the intimate surrounds of the Prince Abdullah bin Faisal Stadium with goals from Gao Lin and Huang Bowen, a double salvo of headed goals from Saudi international striker Naif Hazazi gave Al Ittihad the win and has left Guangzhou with a mountain to climb in the second leg at Tianhe Stadium on October 2.
"There are times during the year when you are lucky and times when you are unlucky and unfortunately we have had many players who are injured," said Lippi. "But if we have our full squad available then we have a good chance to win.
"We lost Muriqui due to injury and some of our players were only at 50 per cent and hadn't fully recovered and also we had some errors which weren't supposed to happen and that's why we lost.
"But this game will be decided over 180 minutes and hopefully when we play at home all of our players will be back."
Lippi will at least have Zhang Linpeng and Zhao Xuri available for the second leg after both missed the trip to Saudi Arabia because of suspension. But the World Cup-winning coach will have other issues to deal with, in particular the possible absence of Brazilian forward Muriqui.
Last season's Chinese Super League Player of the Year was stretched off with an injured left ankle in the 36th minute and his loss deprived Guangzhou of another creative outlet - and attacking threat - in the second period.
The return to action, too, of Feng Xiaoting after more than a month out injured backfired on Lippi as the former Jeonbuk Motors defender's sluggishness was capitalised upon by Hazazi as the spring-heeled youngster made the most of Guangzhou's slackness in defence.
With two weeks to go to the second leg and with Guangzhou needing to score twice to have any chance of progressing, the Chinese Super League champions' season is threatening to come undone.
Guangzhou are only one point clear of Jiangsu Sainty at the top of the domestic league standings, having drawn their past two games, while they will take a slender one-goal advantage into their Chinese FA Cup semi-final against Liaoning Whowin on Wednesday.
Before that they face Dalian Shide in the Chinese Super League on Sunday knowing they may no longer be top when they take to the field as Jiangsu face Changchun Yatai the day before.