Dubbed Mission: Impossible by many, can the Central Coast Mariners overturn their deficit in the lion's den of cashed-up Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande?
|By MICHAEL HUGUENIN
Zhang, Feng, Kim, Sun
Zheng, Zhao, Conca
Gao Lin, Muriqui, Rong Hao
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
Bojic, Sainsbury, Zwaanswijk, RoseMontgomery, Hutchinson, McGlinchey
Ibini, McBreen, Duke
Evergrande had too much polish for a spirited Mariners outfit in Australia and Arnold's squad will have to be lethal in front of goal at Guangzhou Stadium if they are to advance to AFC Champions League 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 manager Marcelo Lippi took the opportunity against Liaoning to rest key players Dario Conca, Lucas Barrios, Feng Xiaoting and Sun Xiang from the starting XI.
But in some good news for the Mariners, Barrios was injured after coming on as a substitute and will miss the home leg.
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.
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 several 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 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 appears tough.