No mistakes in Australia this time, Lippi vows
Guangzhou Evergrande coach puts shock loss in group stage behind him as they face AFC Champions League quarter-final Down Under
Guangzhou Evergrande will not slip up again in Australia when they face Western Sydney Wanderers in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals tomorrow, coach Marcello Lippi vowed.
The Italian World Cup-winning coach said he was not concerned by memories of April, when the Chinese champions were shocked 2-0 by Melbourne Victory in the group stage.
Guangzhou resume their campaign after the Champions League's traditional mid-season break, during which they established a 10-point lead in the Chinese Super League.
"Every match is special and unique because of the difference in opposition each time, so the loss against Melbourne Victory earlier in the AFC Champions League does not prove anything," Lippi said ahead of the first leg at Parramatta Stadium.
"We are investigating our opponent ahead of the quarter-finals and we know that they have changed some players from earlier in the competition, but we have had enough time to analyse those players to ensure that we are fully prepared."
Just over two years into his tenure, Lippi's desire to bring Italian flavour to Guangzhou has delivered another subtle change to the side who dominated Asian club football last year.
While Dario Conca was the man to make way at the end of last season - the influential Argentinian heading back to the Brazilian side Fluminense from where he was signed in July 2011 - last month it was Muriqui's turn to depart southern China.
If Conca supplied the ammunition during Guangzhou's run to the title last year, it was the slender Brazilian who continually had his finger on the trigger, scoring 13 times to not only guide his team to the title and finish as the tournament's top scorer, but to also take the competition's Most Valuable Player award. Between them, Conca and Muriqui claimed a remarkable 21 goals in 14 matches.
It is into those boots, then, that former AC Milan and Fiorentina striker Alberto Gilardino is expected to step and help Guangzhou overcome what has been a disjointed 2014.
Gilardino joins former Italy teammate Alessandro Diamanti, who signed as Conca's replacement, on the club's books for the final push towards successive Asian titles.
"We have changed some players, but also injuries and absences of certain players affected us and our results, but I believe we are still strong enough," said Lippi, whose side have yet to hit the heights of last year.
"The team faces certain difficulties as we have qualified for the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League and we are also leading the Chinese Super League, even though we are not at our best."
Guangzhou were less than convincing in the group stages, particularly on the road, where they lost to Jeonbuk Motors before seeing off Cerezo Osaka in the round of 16.
But they still retain the core of the squad who were imperious last year, led by captain Zheng Zhi and fired by the goals of Brazilian striker Elkeson; Guangzhou are closing in on a fourth straight Chinese Super League title.
"We have pressure, but it is all positive," he said. "We are not just participating in the AFC Champions League. We are ready to win the remaining games in the tournament but, of course, the other teams are also preparing for this as well."