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Dalian look to revive Chinese fortunes
Updated: 2004-09-14 08:43

Chinese Super League giants Dalian Shide will be looking to revive the fortunes of Chinese clubs in continental competition when they take on Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League on September 14, 2004.

Ermin Siljak has scored eight goals for Dalian in the AFC Champions League this season

Apart from Liaoning’s victory in the 1989 Asian Club Championship, Chinese league sides have failed to deliver in Asian club competitions with Dalian’s semi-final defeat to eventual champions Al Ain in last year’s AFC Champions League just the latest in a long line of failures.

Dalian had appeared to be on course to reaching last season’s final when they battled back from a 6-3 deficit against the UAE side, levelling the aggregate score with three goals in seven minutes at the Dalian People’s Stadium. However, a late Farhad Majidi strike restored the Al Ain lead, sending them through to the final at the expense of the Chinese side.

With that failure still fresh on the mind of player-coach Hao Haidong and his teammates, Dalian will be keen to record a good result against Ittihad on Tuesday, seeking a possible knockout blow against the Saudi side before next week’s return match in Riyadh.

Dalian’s form this season has been steady if not spectacular. They currently lie second behind Shenzhen Jianlibao in the China Super League and strolled their way through their opening round AFC Champions League group, easily ousting Vietnam’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai, Thailand’s Krung Thai Bank and PSM Makassar of Indonesia en route to the knockout stage.

While age and injury may have limited Hao’s effectiveness up front this season, Dalian have had few problems finding the back of the net thanks to Slovenian striker Ermin Siljak, who has bagged eight of his team’s 11 goals during the group stage of the competition.

Meanwhile, China international wingers Yan Song and Li Ming are coming off strong performances for their country at the Asian Cup and are likely to cause problems for Ittihad down the flanks.

It will certainly not be an easy task for Ittihad to get a result in China but veteran Croatian coach Tomislav Ivic has enough experience to devise an effective game plan. The 71-year-old, who recently replaced Brazilian Jose Candido, will be coaching Al Ittihad in the AFC Champions League for the first time after spells in Iran, UAE and several of Europe’s top clubs.

Ivic has not enjoyed the best of starts with his new side in the Saudi league. Following a convincing opening 4-1 win over minnows Uhod, the team stumbled to a 2-0 defeat to Al Taei and a 1-1 draw with Al Ittifaq.

While the results may not be a complete disaster, the expectations surrounding the Riyadh side are high as they look to regain their league title after suffering a surprise 1-0 defeat to Al Shabab in last season’s championship playoff after an impressive campaign in which they won 17 of 22 matches.

Saudi international striker Marzouk Al Otaibi will be looking to increase his tally of five goals in the AFC Champions League as he lines up in a strong attacking formation that includes a trio of recent imports – Croatian Marco Carevic and Brazilians Sergio Junior and Chiro.

However, Ivic will have to contend with the absence through injury of international midfielder Saud Khariri, who has hurt his jaw, and defender Hamad Al Montashari.

Al Ittihad emerged from Group D in the opening round, eliminating Iran’s Sepahan, Kuwait’s Al Arabi and Uzbekistan’s Neftchi.

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Federica Ridolfi
Selected Reuters sports pictures for September 27
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