Group G Preview: Tianjin Teda v Central Coast Mariners

Central Coast face a testing midweek trip to China to kickoff their AFC Asian Champions League campaign.

These two sides were actually drawn together in the 2009 AFC Champions League.

Date: Wednesday 7 March, 2012 Kick-off: 11.00pm AEDT, 8.00pm local Venue: TEDA Football Stadium

Head-to-head Played: 2 Wins: Tianjin 1, Central Coast 0, Draws: 1

Previous encounter Tianjin Teda 1, Central Coast 0, 19 May 2009

History: These two sides were actually drawn together in the 2009 AFC Champions League. On results from their two clashes Tianjin were the better side. First they played a 2-2 draw in China - all goals were scored in the middle of the match, ranging from the 37th minute for the home side's first goal, and the 66th minute for their second.

But in the return match, they picked up a win in Gosford with a score of 1-0 This is Tianjin's third appearance in Asia's top club competition - their best finish was in 2011, when they made it out of the group stage and into the Round of 16, before falling to eventual champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors by three goals to nil.

That's more than the Mariners have ever done, though - in their only prior run in this tournament, they were unable to pick up a win.

Form: Past five matches: Tianjin: LLLWL Central Coast: LLWLD

Summary of form:

The Chinese Super League season doesn't start until this weekend, so it's fair to say Tianjin will be underdone in terms of match fitness. They've only played one official match this calendar year, and they lost it 2-1 to CSL champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super Cup on Saturday.

The goal they scored came late on through captain Wang Xinxin, and it was nothing but a consolation. Before that we have to look at the tail end of Tianjin's season to see how they went - they closed the CSL season with three consecutive losses, before beating Shandong Luneng 2-1 in the Chinese FA Cup final, which clinched their ACL appearance.

The Mariners aren't doing all that flash in the A-League. With only one win in the last five games - that at home to Wellington two weeks ago - they are in danger of slipping up and letting Brisbane overtake them at the summit of the table.

In their two most recent starts, they fell to a late goal from Heart striker Eli Babajl before drawing with Sydney FC in Gosford. Their form is concerning, but with their Australian under-23 players back and now settled once again, the excuses are running out.

Match Committee: The Mariners will be without Rostyn Griffiths - he transferred to Guangzhou R&F for a sizable transfer fee and reportedly more than triple the size of his wage bill at Central Coast. However, he is their only notable absentee here - although they'd better get used to life without him.

The recent loss of Matt Simon to Korea will again be felt in this competition. Tianjin have had some changes of their own though - since their triumph in the Chinese FA Cup, they've lost their coach, and star man Yu Dabao.

Danger men: Milan Susak - Clubs in the ACL are only allowed to field four foreigners - and one has to be from an AFC member nation. So for Tianjin to sign up Susak shows just how much faith they have in the defender, and how much of an integral role he'll play in their squad.

His knowledge of A-League teams, from his experience with both Adelaide and Brisbane, will be invaluable for his new Chinese side as they try to plot Central Coast's downfall.

John Hutchinson - Central Coast's lynchpin, their link between defence and midfield, is gone. Rostyn Griffiths has become the latest player to join the Chinese exodus, which means the role of the No.6 falls on the shoulders of Maltese international Hutchinson. His side needs him to step up, badly. Is he capable of filling in the gap which now exists?

At the end of the day…

This might be a bridge too far for the Mariners. There's a good chance they'll be tired going into this match, given they only played their last match on the weekend. Even in that game, they didn't look at their best - since losing Simon permanently and a handful of their best young players for a few weeks through Olyroos duty, their form has been shaky.

They've also been tasked with the marathon trip to China, which is going to be a brand new experience for many of their players. Meanwhile, though Tianjin are by no means at the peak of their powers in terms of match fitness, they'll be in good nick with the CSL about to start. Factor in their home ground advantage, and the varied personnel problems of the Mariners, and they undoubtedly take favouritism.