If football bridges differences between people like no other it also has an unparalleled ability to forge rivalries between teams who share little common ground.
Around 7,500 kilometres – or 10 hours in flight – separates Western Sydney Wanderers and Guangzhou Evergrande and that’s far from their greatest dividing factor.
Raw data suggests that of these two clubs only one could reasonably be expected to outmanoeuvre 31 other contenders for continental glory. Suffice to say, any analysis is favouring Asia’s richest club.
Tuesday’s match at the 58,500 capacity Tianhe Stadium will be Wanderers’ fourth meeting with the Chinese side in their past twelve AFC Champions League outings.
Familiarity breeds contempt? Nonsense, it didn’t even take 90 minutes.
Tomi Juric’s decisive touch put Wanderers ahead in the first leg of last year’s Quarter Final before two late red cards cued Marcello Lippi madness. A rivalry between Asia’s richest club and Australia’s youngest was born then and there in Parramatta. Subsequent survival in the second leg only heightened discontent while close proximity to this season’s campaign have strengthened the desire for victory at both ends.
After Guangzhou’s 3-2 win in March featuring a huge 17 minutes of extra time the ledger is now two to one in their favour. That alone won’t satisfy the reigning four-time champions of China.
Their bid for back-to-back titles was scuppered by an embryonic, salary-capped Western Sydney and it won’t be forgotten.
Brazilian acquisition Ricardo Goulart netted a hat-trick in the teams’ initial Group H meeting and will again be the man to stop come Tuesday night. The Selecao striker’s predatory display in the reverse fixture paid tribute to the extraordinary sum required to pry him away from Cruzeiro. Fellow attackers Elkeson and Gao Lin have been equally dangerous in recent weeks.
The trio all joined as a result of Evergrande Real Estate’s purchase of a team which only achieved promotion in 2010. Recent investment from e-commerce group Alibaba boosted resources. Fabio Cannavaro’s side have since dominated the Chinese Super League, won a first AFC Champions League and encountered a worthy competitor in Tony Popovic’s Western Sydney Wanderers.
Football eventually finds a way to unite and for these two clubs their desire for success is comparable. Without it, Western Sydney Wanderers would not be what it is today: giant-killer, disobeyer of odds, Asian Champion. Those qualities will need to be called upon against their fellow contenders.
You can watch live on Fox Sports 505 this Tuesday with kick-off at 9pm. To advance we need ot win while the match between FC Seoul and Kashima Antlers must be a draw.