—GUANGZHOU—Guangzhou Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi has downplayed concerns that a lack of competitive action could see his side struggle in Wednesday’s 2014 AFC Champions League opener with Melbourne Victory.
Lippi, who last year guided his side to success in the competition during his first full season in China, admitted that the timing of the game would benefit his opponents who find themselves in the middle of the current A League season.
However, the Italian expressed confidence that his team would overcome any potential disadvantage to begin their quest to retain the Champions League title with a victory.
“Melbourne are already midway through the season, while we are only in pre-season. It’s an advantage for them in this game,” Lippi reasoned. “In a tournament like this, though, you will often meet this type of problem.
“It’s normal that one team has some advantages and it’s important that we show our quality on the pitch. If Melbourne win tomorrow, it won’t be because they are in the middle of their season but because they were the better side. However, I’m confident this won’t happen.”
Both Lippi and captain Zheng Zhi were keen to downplay any suggestion of complacency following the side’s successes in 2013, insisting that they are well aware of the challenge ahead in bidding to defend their title.
Since Al-Ittihad in 2004 and 2005, no team has successfully defended Asia’s premier club title and Zheng, who was the tournament’s MVP in 2013, conceded that they face difficulties in repeating the achievement.
“It’s a new challenge for all the team as, apart from the coach, I don’t think any of us have ever entered such a tournament as champions,” he said. “To win for a second time I think will be more difficult than the first time.
“We finished last season late, so we haven’t been back in training that long. We only returned from Spain [training camp] last week and we’ve just been preparing for this game.
“Last year we were able to win the title and now we must work even harder to do so again.”
Evergrande’s match with Melbourne Victory will take place at 20.00 local time at the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou and will be the club’s second official match of 2014, following a 1-0 Super Cup final defeat to Guizhou Renhe last week in which a reserve side featured.
The game will mark the debut of Italy international Alessandro Diamanti, who is expected to start on Wednesday evening. Brazilian signing Rene Junior, meanwhile, was not registered in the club’s squad for the opening stage of the tournament.
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