SOCCER

Injured Zheng Zhi deals blow to Guangzhou coach Lippi

AFC Player of the Year will be missing from Evergrande's crucial clash with Yokohama F Marinos

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 11:43pm

Current AFC Player of the Year Zheng Zhi will not recover in time for Guangzhou Evergrande's crucial AFC Champions League clash with Yokohama F Marinos at Tianhe Stadium on Tuesday night as the reigning Asian champions seek the win required to ensure they can keep the defence of their title alive.

Zheng was taken off injured midway through last week's defeat at the hands of Melbourne Victory in Australia, the club's second straight loss in the competition they won in historic fashion last season.

But back-to-back losses - the Melbourne defeat followed a reversal against Jeonbuk Motors in South Korea - have left Marcello Lippi's side needing to pick up all three points against Japan's Emperor's Cup holders on Tuesday to be sure of advancing to the round of 16 for the third season in a row.

"This is the last game of our AFC Champions League group stage and it is so critical to us," said Lippi.

This is the last game of our AFC Champions League group stage and it is so critical to us
Marcello Lippi

"We have suffered a heavy loss of players due to injuries.

"I hope they can all recover by tomorrow [Tuesday], some of them will start, and some will be substituted on.

"Our target is to take three points.

"Our fans have been very supportive to us, and I hope we can repay them with a win.

"Now the only one that can't play is Zheng Zhi. The rest are all ready, now I have to decide who is starting and who is on the bench."

The club's marquee signing, Italy international Alessandro Diamanti, missed the loss against Melbourne due to injury while China striker Gao Lin was suspended for what was another disjointed display by Lippi's team.

Both are slated to play some part against the J-League runners-up, with Gao scoring in Saturday's 2-1 win over Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League, which kept Guangzhou in pole position in the domestic league.

Zheng is likely to be replaced by fellow China international Rong Hao while Lippi has to decide whether to start central defender Feng Xiaoting.

Feng was taken off injured in the loss against Melbourne and was on the bench for the game against Shanghai.

The challenge for a place in the knockout phase of the continental championship has taken on a greater level of urgency than was anticipated after two victories and a draw in the opening three games of the campaign for Guangzhou, with all four teams in the group now level on seven points after five rounds of matches.