TALK about a David and Goliath battle.
After almost going broke less than two months ago, the Central Coast Mariners will host one of the richest clubs in world football when Guangzhou Evergrande comes to Gosford for the first leg of the AFC Champions League round of 16 tie on May 15.
The Chinese club made headlines in July, 2011 when it signed midfield star Dario Conca from Brazilian side Fluminense on a transfer fee of $10million and a three-and-a-half year deal worth $12.5million a season.
It backed that up the following year by snapping up Paraguayan striker Lucas Barrios from German club Borussia Dortmund for a mere $15.4million and an annual salary of $9million.
Those transfer fees are more than the entire salary budgets of most A-League clubs, so it's hardly surprising the club has won the past two Chinese Super League titles.
Gangzhou's financial power isn't just evident on the field.
The 'Southern China Tigers' boast one of world football's most successful coaches, Marcello Lippi, who led his country to victory in the 2006 World Cup.
The Itaian's CV also boasts five Serie A championships, four Italian Super Cups, one UEFA Champions League, one European Supercup and one Intercontinental Cup, the majority of that success coming with Italian heavyweights Juventus.
Mariners coach Graham Arnold, an assistant to Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink at the 2006 World Cup where Australia was controversially beaten by Italy after an injury-time penalty, said having Lippi and the star-studded Chinese club team on the Central Coast would be a great moment for Australian football.
"Marcello Lippi is one of the world's truly great football figures - it's unquestionable he will be the most famous person ever to coach a team on the Central Coast," Arnold said.
"Our club will take enormous pride in hosting he and the Evergrande team."
At the same time, Arnold, whose team made the final 16 despite losing 3-0 at home to Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol on Tuesday night, said he would not be overawed by the challenge.
"While we will show Marcello and Guangzhou all the respect they deserve, we will not fear them," Arnold said.
"We have a two-week preparation heading into the game and our full focus will be on achieving a positive first-leg result to take to China.
"We will begin the process of analysing Evergrande immediately."
The second leg will be played in China on Wednesday, May 22.
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