Central Coast Mariners will take the game to Guangzhou Evergrande. Captain John Huthcinson and coach Graham Arnold adamant they won't be overawed.
It-s the 40 million dollar men against the two and a half. The difference in budgets between Marcello Lippi-s Guangzhou Evergrande and Graham Arnold-s Central Coast Mariners is so large it-s almost funny.
But a buoyant Arnold has vowed his team will come out fighting against the Chinese heavyweights in their AFC Champions League knockout clash in Gosford on Wednesday night.
Argentine midfielder Dario Conca - reportedly earning more in two months than the entire Mariners team in a year - Brazilians Muriqui and Elkeson, Paraguayan striker Lucas Barrios, plus seven or eight Chinese internationals - it-s fair to say the odds are stacked against the Mariners. But that-s just how Arnold likes it.
“That-s the situation we love being in,” the Mariners coach said at an unusually packed press conference in Terrigal. “Backs against the wall, come out fighting - it-s a siege mentality like it always is for us.
“We-re against the rest of the world; that-s the picture I try to paint for the players every day of the week, all year, that no one expects us to do anything but here we are in the last 16 of the Champions League.”
Motivation hasn-t been a problem for the Mariners, even with the regular competition of the domestic season now weeks behind them. Neither is feeling intimidated or overawed by their opponents or the occasion. For skipper John Hutchinson, playing in a game this big, against a team this cashed-up only adds to the exhilaration of playing at the highest level.
“It-s better training and having a purpose at the end of the week, than going through the fitness drills and Arnie shouting at us for no purpose,” Hutchinson joked.
“Evergrande are a big club, and we-re looking forward to testing ourselves. We-re looking forward to it, it-s a massive game.
“We-re excited to come up against these high quality players. We-re the underdogs; we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We-ll play our way with our system.”
Despite this go-for-broke confidence, Arnold admitted the step up from the A-League to the Champions League will push his squad to the limit. Even with the self-belief earned from a championship-winning season, there is no room for error against a team of this quality.
The Mariners have been crowned the best in Australia. Now they have to be even better than that.
“You can-t compare the A-League with the Champions League,” Arnold said. “It-s a totally different level.
“This game is probably the biggest we-ve ever had on the coast. As I-ve said to the players, I-m excited to see our best performance because we have to play better than we do in the A-League. Our concentration, our discipline have to spot on for 95 minutes, our ball retention has to be the best it-s ever been because if you give away any cheap ball they-ll kill you.
“We-ve tinkered with a few things where we think we can exploit Guangzhou so hopefully that comes off. There-s no use changing after 35 games and it-s been successful.
“A clean sheet is important (on Wednesday night). If we can stop them getting an away goal everything-s possible in the second leg. We hold no fear. We-ve got a lot of pride; we-re representing the Mariners, we-re representing the A-League and Australia.”