Mariners staring down the barrel

It’s now or never for the Central Coast Mariners in their quest to reach the knock-out stages of the 2013 AFC Champions League.

It-s now or never for the Central Coast Mariners in their quest to reach the knock-out stages of the 2013 AFC Champions League.

On paper, their home clash with Guizhou Renhe looks the easiest of the group against a side which has made a slow start to the new Chinese Super League campaign.

The Mariners showed plenty of promise in their 3-1 defeat to Kashiwa Reysol in Chiba three weeks ago and were it not for an inability to contain tricky Brazilian midfielder Leandro Domingues, the Gosford side would almost certainly have taken something from that match.

The trouble for coach Graham Arnold and his team is that Guizhou possess not just one talented foreign attacking player, but three.

In Zvjezdan Misimovic and Zlatan Muslimovic, the Chinese outfit can call upon two of the most dangerous attacking talents in Asian football and ominously for the Mariners, the pair are in form.

Misimovic is perhaps the better pedigreed of the duo, having represented Bosnia and Herzegovina more than 70 times and counting Wolfsburg, Galatasaray and Dynamo Moscow among his most recent clubs.

The influential midfielder won the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg, so it was no surprise to see his recent volleyed goal on debut for his new Chinese employers make headlines in the German press.

The towering Muslimovic has been around on the Chinese scene for over a year now and already he-s formed an impressive combination with his countryman up front.

He headed home following a jinking run and cross from Misimovic in the recent 1-1 league draw with Shanghai East Asia, while Misimovic himself rattled home his second goal of the campaign in Guizhou-s most recent 2-1 league win over Wuhan Zall.

There-s a more familiar face in the Guizhou squad in the form of much-travelled former A-League hard man Jonas Salley, while veteran Spanish defensive midfielder Nano rounds out an impressive foreign contingent.

However, Chinese football is not all about foreign stars and one local name in particular should strike a chord with Australian viewers.

He may be 35-years-old but after blazing a trail for Chinese footballers in England, former Crystal Palace, Manchester City and Sheffield United defender Sun Jihai remains one of China-s most recognisable players.

The veteran defender is winding down his career but his experience at the top level of the game ensures he remains a vital piece of the Guizhou machinery.

Sun might be a familiar name to Australian fans but Guizhou Renhe probably aren-t - owing largely to the fact the club has changed name more than 10 times.

They only moved to the south-western province of Guizhou in 2012, after starting out their professional life in Shanghai and relocating to Shaanxi in 2006.

They-re now one of the better supported clubs in China and just under 30,000 fans turned out at the Guiyang Olympic Sports Centre to see them suffer a narrow 1-0 defeat to J. League side Kashiwa Reysol in their ACL opener.

They-ve since held Suwon Bluewings to a scoreless draw in South Korea and there-s little doubt Guizhou will prove far from pushovers on their trip to Gosford.

But if the Mariners are to advance in the ACL, they almost certainly need to take maximum points from this fixture.

Anything less than a win against the unpredictable Chinese side could spell an early exit for Arnold and his combative side.