Hutch happy with underdog tag

CENTRAL Coast Mariners captain John Hutchinson is happy to accept the underdogs tag as the A-League Grand Final winners prepare to entertain Guangzhou Evergrande.

CENTRAL Coast Mariners captain John Hutchinson is happy to accept the underdogs tag as the A-League Grand Final winners prepare to entertain Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the first leg of their AFC Champions League last 16 tie on Wednesday.

Having won the Grand Final with victory over Western Sydney Wanderers, Graham Arnold-s side completed a memorable few weeks by becoming only the third A-League side to reach the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League after finishing second in Group H behind Japan-s Kashiwa Reysol.

And with Guangzhou topping Group F ahead of former champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Urawa Reds, Marcello Lippi-s side will make the trip to Gosford on Wednesday ahead of the return fixture in China week later with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.

“Obviously being a professional sportsman you always want to win. It doesn-t matter who you play, or what team. Sometimes it doesn-t go to plan, but I think an acceptable result for us is one where we put on a good show,” said 33-year-old Hutchinson, who also played for the Mariners in their previous two AFC Champions League campaigns in 2009 and 2012.

“Obviously we have a small salary cap, and they have a lot of players on big money, so they-re favourites and we-re underdogs, but on the day you never know. We do not fear them; we-re just excited about playing the big team from China.”

Following Group stage exits in both 2009 and 2012, the Mariners secured a place in the last 16 for the first time this year despite a 3-0 home defeat by Emperor-s Cup winners Reysol on the final Matchday at the end of last month after China-s Guizhou Renhe failed to beat Suwon Bluewings.

Arnold-s side crucially beat Guizhou 2-1 at home before claiming their first away success in the AFC Champions League against Suwon - which incredibly arrived just two days after the Grand Final triumph.

“The Grand Final was massive in the fact that we-d lost the last three Grand Finals, and the club was always craving that Grand Final win. It was a big day for us, there was a lot of relief from the players, staff and the club that-d we-d finally won one. It was a memorable day for myself, one that I-ll never forget,” added Hutchinson, who joined the Mariners at the start of the A-League in 2005.

“This is a new challenge, a fresh competition, and somewhere the Mariners have never been before. We-re excited about playing these games because no one expects anything from us. We-ve got no worries about any expectations, we-ve just got to take it game by game, and hopefully we can prove to people in Asia that we-re a good football team.”

The loss to Kashiwa marked only the Mariners- second home defeat in all competitions this season, and as it was also their last competitive match following the end of the A-League season, Central Coast recently took on a domestic-based Australia squad who are preparing for next month-s final round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

“We had a game against the Socceroos, they were kind enough to play us for 70 minutes,” he said.

“You could see a little bit of rustiness in the first 10 or 15 minutes, but after that we looked good and we were playing against the A-League-s best players. We were happy with the performance and the hit out, and on the day you never know what we-re going to come up with on the day.”

But for whatever the Mariners have achieved so far this season, Hutchinson is well aware Guangzhou represents a new challenge with the Chinese Super League champions seeking a second consecutive appearance in the quarter-finals.

Guangzhou-s spending power is well documented and Brazilian striker Muriqui is the second highest scorer in the competition with six goals, while Argentinian midfielder Dario Conca and Paraguayan frontman Lucas Barrios complement numerous China internationals available to World Cup-winning coach Lippi.

“They are amazing players. We-ve seen a few DVDs of them and they are fantastic players. They are players that you can-t leave alone because if you leave them alone and give them time on the ball they are good enough to destroy us."

“We know they-re there but we can-t just watch those three. They have Chinese international players as well, they have a wonderful team. They haven-t won the Chinese league in the last two years for nothing,” he concluded.

Central Coast Mariners (AUS) vs. Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) 2013 AFC Champions League Round of 16 First-Leg Wednesday 15 May, 2013 Central Coast Stadium, Gosford Kick-off: 7:30pm Tickets: Please CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to the match Twitter: Join the match conversation on Twitter. The official hash tag for the game is #CCMvGE