Asia becomes reality for chilled Mariners

The challenges that will await the Central Coast Mariners throughout the AFC Champions League 2009 have become reality for 18 yellow and navy squad members in China at present, ahead of Saturday's litmus test against Jiangsu Sainty at the Kunshan Sports Centre.

The challenges that will await the Central Coast Mariners throughout the AFC Champions League 2009 have become reality for 18 yellow and navy squad members in China at present, ahead of Saturday's litmus test against Jiangsu Sainty at the Kunshan Sports Centre.

Near zero temperatures will underscore the Mariners' battle with the newest addition to the Chinese Super League (CSL) at the impressive 25,000 capacity Kunshan Sports Centre tomorrow afternoon, where the Mariners- preparations for their inaugural continental campaign will well and truly step up a gear.

Having negotiated a near 24-hour transit from the steamy and, by Jiangsu standards, sleepy Central Coast, the next hurdle for the Mariners will be to overcome the 15,000 spectators that are expected to cheer on the home side tomorrow afternoon from 2.30pm local time (5.30pm AEDT).

The Mariners- first ever AFC Champions League quest will begin in earnest against Korean FA Cup winners Pohang Steelers at Central Coast Stadium on Wednesday, 11 March - less than a fortnight after tomorrow-s match.

One week after the Mariners- Asian debut, the yellow and navy will return to China to play Tianjin Teda in their second Group H fixture in similar conditions to those that they are currently experiencing in Kunshan, making this current excursion to the world-s most populous nation one of immense value for the club.

"It was a big trip to get over here but the boys have settled in well and are in good spirits - it-s a big change from playing two days ago in 34 degree heat to playing at 2 degrees," said Mariners Football Manager Lawrie McKinna.

"By playing against two Chinese Super League teams, we-ll be shown roughly what we-ll be up against when we play Tianjin Teda in the AFC Champions League, so we couldn-t ask for any better preparation.

"Obviously the Pohang Steelers game is up first and it-s important to get off to a good start at home, but this is a great preparation in terms of knowing what we-ll be up against when we come to China again."

The Mariners are in China for eight days of intensive conditioning before returning home to face the Steelers at their waterfront home and thus commence their Group H campaign, which will soon take the yellow and navy to ports in China, Japan and the Korea Republic.

While in China over the next week, the Mariners will take on two clubs that will line up in the CSL next season - reigning champions and fellow AFC Champions League qualifiers Shandong Luneng and, tomorrow-s opponents, Jiangsu Sainty.

Jiangsu Sainty represent the vast Jiangsu Province - home to a staggering 75,000,000 people and to a football team that has only recently made its mark on the Chinese football landscape.

No current Chinese national team players play with Jiangsu Sainty, though Brazilian strike pairing Magno Ferreira and Marcio Baros accounted for an impressive 28 of Jiangsu-s 56 goals that earned the club promotion from China-s second-tier Jia League last season.

Jiangsu ordinarily play their home matches out of Nanjing, the capital of the Jiangsu Province, but will host tomorrow-s fixture at Kunshan, a smaller city to Jiangsu-s east and ninety minutes away from China-s most populous city, Shanghai.

Football Manager McKinna has several fresh faces to add to his line up for tomorrow-s clash, with the Mariners most recently recording a 2-1 triumph over reigning Queensland State League champions Sunshine Coast FC and a 1-0 loss to Hyundai A-League rivals the Newcastle Jets since drawing a close to season four.

New signings Shane Huke, Adam Kwasnik and Nick Rizzo have each made the trip to China and are available for selection, while midfield ace Ahmad Elrich is set for a long-awaited cameo off the bench after proving his fitness in recent weeks.

"It-ll be very beneficial, it gives the boys an idea of what to expect in terms of conditions and also opponents," said Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson.

"We-ve got two games over here to see what type of football the Chinese play and not only the Chinese but the Asian teams in general, who will probably play a style of football that-s different to what we-re used to in Australia.

"All in all I think that this is a great trip for us."

The Mariners- pre-AFC Champions League Chinese tour kicks off on Saturday, 28 February against Jiangsu Sainty at the Kunshan Sports Centre. Kick off is at 5.30pm AEDT.

The Mariners will next be in action in a competitive fixture for the kick off of the AFC Champions League 2009 at Central Coast Stadium against Korean FA Cup winners Pohang Steelers on Wednesday, 11 March. Kick off is at 8pm.

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