26 August 2014 02:22
Western Sydney Wanderers take a slender lead into Wednesday’s AFC Champions League quarter-final second leg against Guangzhou Evergrande.
After a combustible first leg in Sydney last week – won 1-0 by the Wanderers – and with social media going into overdrive after the game following allegations of diving and two red cards plus Marcello Lippi’s extraordinary display – there’s sure to be more tension and drama again with a spot in the last four on the line.
Despite trailing after the first leg, the Asian heavyweights and defending champions should be confident of turning things around in front of their vocal home fans in the 60,000 capacity Tianhe Stadium.
But they will need to do it without two of their star players and with their coach watching from the stands.
Zhang Linpeng and Gao Lin are both suspended after being sent off in the heated dying minutes in Sydney.
Irate at the referee, veteran Italian boss Marcello Lippi stormed the pitch, with the AFC handing the 66-year-old a provisional one-match ban pending a full investigation.
But even without their coach and two key players, Guangzhou still have plenty of threats with Italian duo Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Diamanti, and Brazilian forward Elkson a high-quality trio.
Chinese international Huang Bowen, who was surprisingly left on the bench in the first leg, is set to get his chance from the start this time around with Yu Hanchao also an option.
While the big-spending Chinese giants have plenty of firepower to call on, the Wanderers will again rely on their well-organised defence and work-rate to get them through.
Wanderers coach Tony Popovic is almost definitely to be without defender Daniel Mullen, who picked up a hamstring strain in the first leg. Teenager Daniel Alessi is likely to fill that role again after impressing as a substitute last week.
Holding a slight lead, the A-League powerhouse are likely to soak up the home side’s pressure before hitting them on the counter-attack.
For that reason Popovic might utilize the pace of Kwabena Appiah from the start, knowing scoring an away goal could be vital to their chances of progression.
The Wanderers have arrived in Guangzhou to a small number of young fans holding up a banner saying ‘No Diving’. Hardly an intimidating scenario for the players.
That, however, will come on Wednesday when a packed house will be fired up to greet their Australian opponent.
“We already know that it will be a difficult game,” Wanderers midfielder Iacopo La Rocca said.
“They will have maybe 60,000 fans there. Last year they won the ACL and for sure they want to go to the semi-finals.
“It will be difficult, but we have to be prepared for this type of game.
“The confidence is there, but we haven’t done anything yet if we don’t win on Wednesday. We have to give our best and help each other and try to control the game.”