Diego Forlan is danger man, Marcello Lippi warns

Guangzhou Evergrande coach is cautious over ex-United striker as Cerezo look for good start in last-16 clash of Asian Champions League

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 10:53pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 10:58pm

Guangzhou Evergrande's AFC Champions League clash with Cerezo Osaka could easily be billed as Marcello Lippi, 2006 World Cup champion, versus Diego Forlan, Golden Boot winner from South Africa 2010.

Instead, though, the first leg of the round-of-16 clash in the continental club championship at Osaka's Nagai Stadium on Tuesday night is as much a rematch between Lippi and the man on the opposing team's bench, Ranko Popovic.

Former Manchester United striker Forlan has been slow to make the expected impact since joining Osaka in January, although his winner against Shandong Luneng in the final round of group ties secured Cerezo's progress to the knockout stages.

But while the focus of many will be on the veteran Uruguayan, Lippi is paying just as much attention to the man sitting on the home team's bench.

"We are facing a great team with a top-class player in Diego Forlan," said Lippi, who aims to take Guangzhou into the quarter-finals for the third season in a row. "Cerezo are a well-organised team, just like the other Japanese teams we have faced.

We are facing a great team with a top-class player in Diego Forlan. Cerezo are a well-organised team, just like the other Japanese teams we have faced
Marcello Lippi

"My counterpart in the Osaka team was the head coach of FC Tokyo when we eliminated them three seasons ago in a difficult game. This time we have a two-leg challenge and we need to show our real quality."

Lippi's previous encounter with Popovic was his first excursion into Asian club football in May 2012. The 65-year-old guiding his side to a 1-0 win over the side from the Japanese capital, only for Guangzhou to lose in the next round to Al Ittihad from Saudi Arabia.

A year later, Guangzhou won the title to become the first Chinese club to be crowned continental champions since 1990, but the Chinese Super League side have struggled under the burden of expectations this year.

Guangzhou go into the game off the back of a 1-0 win over Shanghai Shenxin at the weekend, a victory that kept them in pole position in the domestic championship, but Lippi's team have so far lacked the fluency of previous seasons.

"We have 22 players with a match every three days," said Lippi. "So I need to use them in turn. Luckily, I have good choices. My purpose is to keep the status of the team at a high level and let more players get the chance to play.

"We will stick to our style as always. I hope to win the game like we have won against every Japanese team before."

Cerezo Osaka, however, have had issues of their own. Popovic took over as Cerezo coach at the start of the season and has, like Forlan, had a slow start at a club that finished third in last year's J-League to qualify for the AFC Champions League.

That may be changing, however. Osaka handed Nagoya Grampus a 2-1 defeat in domestic action on Saturday, despite being reduced to 10 men for most of the second half with Forlan, perhaps ominously, scoring the decider 12 minutes from time.

In other second round action, Jeonbuk Motors face Pohang Steelers, J-League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima take on Western Sydney Wanderers, and FC Seoul take on Kawasaki Frontale. An all-Saudi clash sees Al Ittihad against Al Shabab, while Al Hilal meet Uzbek club Bunyodkor and the United Arab Emirates' two hopefuls Al Ain and Al Jazira go head to head.

Additional reporting by Associated Press