No resting on Champions League laurels, says Guangzhou coach Marcello Lippi
Manager knows his side will be considered a prize scalp as title defence begins against Melbourne
It has been more than two decades since a Chinese club was the team to beat in Asian competition, but when Guangzhou Evergrande kick off their AFC Champions League title defence against Melbourne Victory at Tianhe Stadium on Wednesday night, Marcello Lippi will be insisting his side do not rest on their laurels.
Guangzhou last season became the first Chinese side to be crowned Asian champions since Lioaning FC won the Asian Club Championship in 1990, but their Italian World Cup-winning coach knows that achievement means the Chinese champions will be a prized scalp for every other team in the tournament.
"Because we won the trophy last year, this year all the teams will have a greater desire to defeat us and we have to be aware of this," said the Italian. "Mentally we can't keep thinking about our past achievement. We have to be more prepared and fight to be the leading side of the new season."
The game is Guangzhou's first since the departure of Dario Conca, the Argentinian having returned to Brazilian club Fluminense at the end of last season and being replaced by Italian playmaker Alessandro Diamanti.
Otherwise, there has been little change for Lippi and his team, who will be favourites to pick up all three points against Kevin Muscat's side despite Melbourne being in the middle of their league season whereas the Chinese Super League does not start until early next month.
Lippi insisted rustiness will be no excuse for failing to kick off Guangzhou's defence with victory. "Melbourne have the advantage of being in the middle of their domestic season, while our domestic league has yet to start," he said.
"It is a common situation in international competition, but what really matters in the team is the quality of football you present and the spirit you are fighting with and the desire to win.
"If Melbourne were to win, it won't be because they are in the middle of their league; it will be because they are the better team. But I don't see this happening."
Last year's Chinese Super League runners-up, Shandong Luneng, started their AFC Champions League campaign last night with a 1-1 draw at home to Thai champions Buriram United in group E. Beijing Guoan began their group F campaign with a 1-1 draw against Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima.