SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Former World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi faces his biggest test since taking control of Guangzhou Evergrande when the Chinese club travels to Al Ittihad for Wednesday's first leg of their 2012 Asian Champions League quarterfinal.
The Italian was hired by the big-spending Super League champion in May, with one of his goals being to give China a first continental title since 1989.
However Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia provides a sizeable obstacle. The team from Jeddah won the 2004 and 2005 continental title and reached the final in 2009. Like Guangzhou it has a solid base of domestic players complemented by expensive international stars, but unlike Guangzhou, it is unbeaten in the Asian Champions League this year.
Evergrande squeezed through the group stage courtesy of a last-minute penalty in the final game. Lippi, who took Juventus to the 1996 UEFA Champions League title and Italy to the 2006 World Cup, arrived just days after.
Captain Zheng Zhi believes that Lippi, 64, can take Guangzhou, who lifted the 2011 Chinese title at a canter and is leading the 2012 standings, to greater success.
"He has made a lot of changes to the way we train and also the tactics," said Zheng. "For me, this is a positive change and I believe he can lead us to a new level."
If Guangzhou can progress past the Jeddah club and reach the semifinals, it will equal the 2005 performance of Shenzhen as the best by a Chinese club since the tournament changed to its current structure.
"The results of the past are in the past, but we can change the future and we are ready for that challenge. All the teams are equal to us," said Zheng.
Chinese internationals Zhang Linpeng and Zhao Xuri are suspended for the first leg and it is unclear whether big-money signing Lucas Barrios will play. The Paraguay international, who arrived from German champion Borussia Dortmund, is reportedly keen on a swift return to Europe