La bella Australia: Reflective Lippi plots Victory's downfall

The veteran tactician could not refuse a request to dig up happy memories of Australia's epic clash with his Italy team while preparing to coach against A-League opposition
Reflecting on memories of a titanic struggle with the Socceroos at the 2006 World Cup was Marcello Lippi's only concession to sentiment as the Guangzhou Evergrande coach prepares to put Melbourne Victory to the sword on Tuesday night.

One of the great coaches of his generation and now approaching the twilight of his professional years, Lippi remains supremely focused.

As a matter of professional courtesy, the 66-year-old indulged a marathon press conference on Monday, with many questions tenuously related to the following night's AFC Champions League Group G clash, and some not all.

Has he spoken to his former charge, Sydney FC's Alessandro Del Piero, since arriving in Australia? Will Guangzhou's own Italian star Alessandro Diamanti, injured for Tuesday's game, be selected in Cesare Prandelli's Italy squad for the World Cup?

How does he feel about being compared to his former player Antonio Conte, now guiding Juventus back to the heights they previously enjoyed under Lippi's reign? How long will he continue to coach for, and will his next role be in club or international football?

Despite each topic being washed through a combination of English, Chinese and Italian translation, no issue was too small, unrelated or inconsequential for a man who has won Serie A, the Coppa Italia, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup.

Only when matters turned to that game between Australia and the Azzurri in Kaiserslautern eight years ago did a wistful element enter Lippi's tone of voice, and a gleam light up his shrewd, piercing eyes.

"During the World Cup in Germany in 2006, I remember a really good team," he said.

"It was the team coached by my friend Mr (Guus) Hiddink. I remember really well that match. We had 10 players because (Marco) Materazzi got a red card. For one hour we had found it really difficult to perform well.

"Only at the end of the match with the penalty did we finally win against Australia. But I remember at that time the Australian national team was a really good team."

Socceroos supporters will of course remember the team just as fondly, and doubtless have rather less rosy memories of the controversial conclusion to the game.

On Tuesday it won't be the nation's hopes on the line against a side with Lippi at the helm, only those of Victory supporters, who are likely to place rather more importance on the outcome of Friday's elimination final against Sydney FC.

But regardless of whether he's coaching in front of an empty stadium in Melbourne's Docklands or on the biggest stage in the football world, Lippi's ultra-professional approach remains unaltered.

"We are ready to play the match," he said when asked about the absence of Diamanti and the suspended Gao Lin.

"After our match at home I have also watched the other games of Melbourne Victory in the group. I know this team. I know now that we're almost at the end of the group so for every match it's really important. They will try their best to perform well tomorrow against us. We know them (Victory)."

That attention to detail has been the open secret of Lippi's success during 32 years as a coach and there is every chance, despite the best endeavours of Kevin Muscat and his players, it will prove to be Melbourne Victory's undoing this week.