Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande face a tense evening in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday with their Asian title defence on the line in the final round of group games.
Last week’s shock defeat has put the pre-tournament favourites in the perilous and unlikely position of being level on seven points with their three rivals in Group G, with one game left.
The Chinese champions and league-leaders now need a home win against Japan’s Yokohama F Marinos to guarantee that they progress to the last 16 and avoid an embarrassing early exit.
Such a failure would be a blow for World Cup-winner Lippi, who has extended his contract to 2017 after helping Guangzhou become China’s first Asian champions in 23 years last season.
In a boost for Guangzhou, Italian talisman Alessandro Diamanti, who missed the 2-0 loss to Melbourne Victory through injury, is back in full training and is expected to play alongside prolific striker Muriqui.
Meanwhile Kevin Muscat’s Victory will need more heroics as they search for one of the group’s two knock-out berths away to 2006 winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
An exceptionally tight group stage in east Asia has left much to play for in the final week with seven of the eight places in the eliminators still up for grabs.
With Pohang Steelers the only team through, and China’s Guizhou Renhe the sole side eliminated, 14 teams remain in contention across the four groups to be decided on Tuesday and Wednesday.
As well as all of Group G being level on points, just two points separate the four teams in Group F. And behind Pohang in Group E, the other three sides are all locked on five points.
In west Asia, Al Jazira, Al Shabab, Foolad Khouzestan, Al Ain and Al Ittihad are all through but Group D remains tight with the four teams separated by only two points.
Group leaders Al Ahli and Sepahan, who both have seven points, are away against Al Sadd and Al Hilal respectively on what is shaping up as a dramatic night on Tuesday.