|By HAMISH NEAL
Central Coast coach Graham Arnold has no fears about going to China as the Mariners attempt to overturn their 2-1 defeat to Chinese Superleague side Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday in Gosford.
Facing the prospect of having to win by two goals to progress by virtue of Evergrande’s two away goals at Bluetongue Stadium, Arnold was critical of his team's finishing and poor decision making in the AFC Champions League Round-of-16 encounter.
But Arnold firmly placed the pressure on World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi's side, declaring the Chinese side "is expected to win the Champions League".
After dominating the first half hour of the encounter [including the opening goal to Mitchell Duke after seven minutes] and more than matching it with the Chinese Super League champions, goals from Lucas Barrios in the 28th minute and a 76th-minute strike to the Brazilian marksman Muriqui secured the first leg for the visitors.
"The pressure is on them, we have got no pressure," Arnold said.
"They are expected to win the Champions League.
"Football is a funny game and I have been around long enough to know you can never be comfortable. It would have been good to get the 2-2 but we didn't.
"At the end of the day it's a huge difference between the budgets and quality in the front part of the field."
Noting the difference between the domestic league and the ACL, Arnold was blunt.
"If we played against any other A-League side tonight we would have won, it's that simple," he said.
"The Champions League is a totally different level."
While also acknowledging the gulf between the two competitions in terms of budget, with the Mariners worth just under AU$2.5 million and one Guangzhou player earning AU$12m this season, Arnold was still disappointed with the output at times of his side despite the periods of dominance.
"The end product was what hurt us, either we were let down by a poor cross or a bad decision," he said.
The 49-year-old saw positive signs for the return leg at the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou on Wednesday.
"Over the 90 minutes we played a lot of good football," Arnold said.
"In the second half we had three or four great chances, the 'keeper saved two with his backside.
"If we put them away it's a totally different game."
Arnold seems clear on the game plan for Marcello Lippi's side and he expects the World Cup-winning manager's side to play in a similar vein next week.
"The front three give a false press, they don't put too much pressure on the ball.
"It was a matter of finding [Daniel] McBreen because he was free the whole time, and [Michael] McGlinchey and Bernie [Ibini] also.
"I don’t think they will play any different. The reply heavily on their front three to score the goals and they rely on the back six to stop the so I think the space will still be there."
The Mariners head to China for the return leg knowing Guangzhou's only home loss this season did come in a knockout format, when beaten 2-1 in the Chinese Super Cup by Jiangsu Sainty in March.