(Reuters) - Guangzhou Evergrande have looked far from convincing in their AFC Champions League title defence but coach Marcello Lippi believes they can beat Western Sydney Wanderers in the quarter-finals and go on to reach the final.
Under the World Cup-winning Italian coach, Guangzhou enjoyed a stellar 2013 when they became the first Chinese team to be crowned continental champions in 23 years, while completing a hat-trick of Super League titles on the domestic front.
They are still in the reckoning to become the fifth side to win back-to-back continental titles but defeats against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Cerezo Osaka and Melbourne Victory have come as stark reminders of their frailties.
"The injury and absence of various players contributed to those loses earlier in the competition. However, the most important thing was that we qualified for the quarter-finals," Lippi said in a media release.
"Every match is special and unique because of the difference in opposition each time, so the loss against Melbourne Victory... does not prove anything.
"We are now scouting our opponents ahead of the quarter-finals and we know that they have changed some players from earlier in the competition, but we have enough time to analyse those players to ensure we are fully prepared for these games."
Guangzhou have lost their talismanic Brazilian forward Muriqui, top scorer in last year's tournament, to Al Sadd of Qatar but Lippi remains upbeat over the chances of another trip to the final.
"We have gone through the same processes in the summer break as we did during pre-season to make sure we are prepared for the next part of the season," said the 66-year-old coach, who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup victory.
"Although we have changed some players from the squad we had last year, I believe we are still strong enough and I hope we can be in the final again this year."
Guangzhou will travel to Sydney's Paramatta Stadium for the first leg of the quarter-final on Aug 20, before hosting the Australians for the second leg a week later.
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty; Editing by John O'Brien)