Tough ask for Melbourne Victory in ACL game against legend of Lippi

Melbourne Victory has endured tough opening nights in the Asian Champions League before: its 5-1 capitulation to Gamba Osaka in 2011 virtually ended its competition before it had got under way and at the same time drove the final nail into Ernie Merrick’s coaching career at the club.

And the task on Wednesday night when Kevin Muscat’s side takes on Chinese Super League champion Guangzhou Evergrande is likely to be every bit, if not more, difficult than that night in Osaka three years ago.

Guangzhou is the reigning Asian champion, having won the title on the away goals rule last year against South Korean side FC Seoul: its 2-2 draw in Seoul put it in the driving seat, ensuring the 1-1 result in the second leg was enough to win the championship.

It has a coach, in Italian Marcello Lippi, who has forgotten more about the game than most people ever learn.

The contrast between Muscat, in his first season as a head coach, and Lippi could not be greater. The latter’s formidable CV includes not only a World Cup with Italy in 2006, but five Serie A titles, two Chinese Super League titles, one Coppa Italia, one UEFA Champions League and one Asian Champions League.

The contrast out on the field might not be quite as great, but the squad depth that the cashed-up Chinese club possesses will make this an enormously difficult task for the Australians, who flew out on Monday.

Victory will no doubt be buoyed by its great win over Adelaide with four goals on Saturday night, but that it conceded three to an A-League side that on paper at least lacks the firepower of the Asian champion does not bode well.

It is hard to see this game being anything but a backs-to-the-wall ordeal for Victory. Guangzhou has not started its league season yet, but while it might lack match sharpness that could be a double-edged sword as it will be fit and keen and ready to go.

Lippi has announced this will be his final season in China. He turns 66 in April and has said he is tired of the demands of club football – which has led the Chinese media to speculate about him taking the reins of the Chinese national team.

Guangzhou has recently signed former Italian international striker Alessandro Diamanti from Bologna, the 30-year-old being a readymade replacement for Argentinian forward Dario Conca, who left after the Champions League final win.

Victory will be without its own playmaker, Tom Rogic, who injured a foot in that thrilling triumph over Adelaide when he collided with teammate Leigh Broxham.

Central Coast Mariners, who lost heavily to Wellington last Friday night, have an equally difficult task in taking on Guangzhou’s victim in last season’s final, FC Seoul, on Tuesday night.

Western Sydney Wanderers, the third Australian side in the competition, look to have the best chance of immediate success. They entertain Ulsan Hyundai, from South Korea, at Parramatta Stadium on Wednesday night.

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