Central Coast will need to be far more prolific in front of goal than they are renowned for, as it is hard to imagine Evergrande remaining goalless.
Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 Kick-off: 8:00pm local (10.00pm AEDT) Venue: Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou
Head-to-head: Played: 1, Wins: Guangzhou 1, Central Coast 0
Past five matches: Mariners: LLWWW Guangzhou: WWWWD
The Game: If Central Coast Mariners head coach Graham Arnold thought overcoming Guangzhou Evergrande would be tough before last week's round-of-16 first leg in Gosford, his side face an even more difficult task on Wednesday when they attempt to overcome a 2-1 deficit in China.
Evergrande had too much polish for a spirited Mariners outfit last week and Arnold's squad will have to be lethal in front of goal at Tianhe Stadium if they are to advance to the AFC Champions League (ACL) quarter-finals.
Central Coast will need to score at least two goals to knock off the hosts on aggregate and they will enter Evergrande's home ground knowing the dual-reigning Chinese Super League champions have lost just once on their own turf in 19 competitive fixtures.
The Mariners have been in China since Sunday in preparation for the round-of-16 second leg, while Evergrande had to play a league game on Saturday, overcoming Liaoning Whowin 4-1. Evergrande head coach Marcelo Lippi took the opportunity versus Liaoning to rest key players Dario Conca, Lucas Barrios, Feng Xiaoting and Sun Xiang on the bench.
The Big Issue Guangzhou: Central Coast dominated the opening stages of the first leg against Guangzhou and Lippi will be reminding his players they were caught out on the wings.
Josh Rose and Pedj Bojic had plenty of joy in the first half, overlapping from their full-back positions and Evergrande will have to be wary of the Mariners out wide. If wingers Muriqui and Gao Lin do enough work in defence, Evergrande should nullify the Mariners' strength.
Mariners: Every expert argued that Arnold had to take a lead to China if the Mariners were to advance to the quarter-finals. So what does the 49-year-old coach do now?
Central Coast were, uncharacteristically, pulled apart a number of times by Evergrande in the first leg and Arnold would surely like to have central defender Trent Sainsbury back in his line-up. Sainsbury missed last week with a hamstring problem but if the 21-year-old returns, he could be key to a better defensive performance.
The Gamebreaker Muriqui: The 26-year-old Brazilian left-winger became joint top-scorer in the 2013 ACL with his winning goal against the Mariners last week. Muriqui barely touched the ball in the first half in Gosford but showed why he is loved in Guangzhou with an ice-cold finish in the 76th minute to notch his seventh goal of the competition.
In his fourth season with Evergrande, Muriqui has scored 57 goals in 89 appearances for the Southern China Tigers and should provide Central Coast right-back Bojic with plenty of headaches on Wednesday.
Prediction: Guangzhou 2-1 Central Coast (Guangzhou to win 4-2 on aggregate) The hosts have kept three clean sheets in seven ACL matches this season and the Mariners showed last week that they can breach Evergrande's back four.
But Central Coast will need to be far more prolific in front of goal than they are renowned for, as it is hard to imagine Evergrande remaining goalless. Arnold's side have not scored more than two goals in a game in their past 14 fixtures in all competitions, so a miraculous comeback from the Mariners does not seem likely.