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May 2, 2013

Mariners not fearful of ACL opponents

Guangzhou Evergrande's highest-paid player earns more in two months than Central Coast pay their entire team for a whole year.

But Mariners coach Graham Arnold says his A-League champions have no fear of their Asian Championship League opponents ahead of the first leg of their round of 16 tie in Gosford on May 15.

Two-time Chinese Super League champions Evergrande are one of Asia's wealthiest clubs and boast World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.

They ensured their match-up with Arnold's Mariners when they finished atop their ACL group ladder on Wednesday night with a 0-0 draw against Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai.

But Arnold - who was the Socceroos' assistant coach when they played Lippi's ultimately victorious Italy in a controversial 2006 World Cup round of 16 loss - is ready for the battle.

"Marcello Lippi is one of the world's truly great football figures and it's unquestionable he will be the most famous person ever to coach a team on the Central Coast," Arnold said.

"But, while we will show Marcello Lippi and Guangzhou all the respect they deserve, we will not fear them.

"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."

In 2011, Evergrande paid a $10 million fee for Argentine attacking midfield star Dario Conca from Brazilian side Fluminense on a three-and-a-half year deal. He now earns a reported $12.5 million per season and is one of the highest-paid footballers in the world.

A year later, the cashed-up club signed Paraguayan striker Lucas Barrios from German outfit Borussia Dortmund for a record $12 million fee with an estimated annual salary of $9 million.

Meanwhile the Mariners, who recently struggled to pay their players before the intervention of new owner Mike Charlesworth, spend approximately $2 million in total on players per season.

It's believed their top earners - including the likes of Nick Montgomery, Michael McGlinchey and John Hutchinson - are paid in the realm of $200,000 a year, while several younger players are on barely more than the A-League minimum wage.

Regardless, Arnold said his team was ready to prove their on-field strength in a fortnight's time.

"Our club will take enormous pride in hosting Marcello Lippi and the Evergrande team, and the match promises to be a great occasion for all Australian football fans," he said.

The Mariners will play the second leg against Evergrande on May 22 in China, with the aggregate winner advancing to the ACL's quarter-finals starting in August.

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