AS the Central Coast Mariners began their warm-up for last Wednesday’s AFC Champions League Round of 16 first-leg fixture against Guangzhou Evergrande in Gosford, one of the officials from the Chinese Super League heavyweights caught Nick Montgomery’s eye.
AS the Central Coast Mariners began their warm-up for last Wednesday-s AFC Champions League Round of 16 first-leg fixture against Guangzhou Evergrande in Gosford, one of the officials from the Chinese Super League heavyweights caught Nick Montgomery-s eye.
Directing Evergrande-s pre-match preparations in the opposite half was one of Marcello Lippi-s assistants, Li Tie.
Despite representing China at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea Republic and Japan, and enjoying a distinguished playing career in his homeland and the United Kingdom, the former Liaoning Whowin player-s presence on the Central Coast would ordinarily have gone unnoticed.
But for Montgomery, the recognition that his former teammate and friend was mere metres away is indicative of how small and interconnected the world of professional football can be.
“Before the game I looked across and saw one of my old friends, Li Tie,” Montgomery explained in Guangzhou. “He-s actually retired now, but he-s a coach at Guangzhou which is fantastic for him. He-s learning from Marcello Lippi which is amazing.”
Tie joined Sheffield United from Everton in 2006, spending two years at the ‘Blades- alongside fellow midfielder Montgomery.
Having already made moves to get in touch with Tie while in Guangzhou, Montgomery said he hopes he can catch up with the revered former Chinese international before the Mariners return to Australia.
“It was nice to see him, he-s a great lad and hopefully I-ll get to catch up with him before we go back,” Montgomery said.
The Mariners trained on Monday afternoon for the first time since their arrival in Guangzhou.
Unfortunately for Graham Arnold-s men, just 20 minutes in the session was brought to a grinding halt after a downpour of quite epic proportions struck the city of nearly 13 million people.
Despite the less than ideal circumstances that saw training cut short, Montgomery said the players would still benefit from the opportunity to stretch their legs.
“I-ve seen some big rainstorms but today was probably the biggest I have seen,” he said. “The good thing is that we had a warm-up, a stretch and a bit of ball work before the storm came, so at least we got something done.”
And Montgomery detailed that the team is feeling confident ahead of the second-leg against Evergrande, safe in the understanding that if each player does his job against Lippi-s men and believes in the cause, chances to turn the tie will come.
“We created so many chances before they scored in the first-leg,” Montgomery said. “We are playing against some top class opposition and I think we matched them for most of the game.”
“If anything we took confidence [from the first-leg] that we can create chances and that we can win the game.”
Montgomery rates the opportunity of playing in the last 16 in Asia among the high points in his playing career.
“Wednesday is a massive game and a massive achievement for me as a player and the Mariners,” he said. “The AFC Champions League is so big across Asia.”
“For me it-s definitely up there with the biggest games I-ve played in. We-re looking at 40,000 people in a nice Stadium against a great team. These are the nights you play football for.”
Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) vs. Central Coast Mariners (AUS) - AFC Champions League Round of 16 (Second-Leg) Wednesday 22 May, 2013 Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou Kick-off: 8:00pm (local); 10:00pm (AEST) Twitter: Join the match conversation on Twitter! The official hashtag for the clash is #GEvCCM Television: Live and exclusive on Fox Sports 3 & 3HD