Marcello Lippi faces his first major test since taking over as manager at Guangzhou Evergrande when the Chinese champions host FC Tokyo on Wednesday in the second round of the 2012 Asian Champions League, a competition that his new club is desperate to win.
Lippi, who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup, has collected four points in two Chinese Super League games since his arrival in Guangzhou this month but the continental prize is higher on the club's agenda this season.
With Guangzhou topping its group to earn home advantage for the one-off, second-round match, Evergrande is expected to progress to the last eight in its first ever appearance in the competition.
That is the minimum target for the ambitious club that has spent $70 million in less than three years on expensive foreign stars including Dario Conca from Argentina and Lucas Barrios, a recent acquisition from German champion Borussia Dortmund.
Philippe Troussier, a Frenchman who has coached Japan, Morocco and Marseille, is in his second season in charge of Shenzhen Ruby in the Chinese league and knows Lippi will face enormous expectations. Defeat on Wednesday would be a major disappointment for fans and media in China.
''Lippi has great experience but there are great expectations. He is expected to win the Asian Champions League,'' Troussier told The Associated Press. ''It won't be easy against Tokyo but if he can win this game and get to the quarterfinal in September, it will really help him settle at the club.
''It will take time for Lippi to find the right balance. He is a new coach working in a foreign country for the first time and there are communication and cultural issues. He needs to be flexible.''
Lippi, who won the UEFA Champions League with Juventus in 1996, has made an unbeaten start at Guangzhou, with a 1-1 draw against Shandong Luneng last week coming after the 1-0 win over Qingdao Jonoon in his first match in charge.
When he arrived at the club, he talked about bringing an Italian style to the game. After his first victory, he admitted there was a lot of adjustments to make but he'd already achieved something he'd never previously done.
''In my career, no matter with Juventus, Milan or the Italian national team, my debut match has always been a loss,'' Lippi told a post-match news conference. ''So I was a little bit afraid about the first match actually.
''Now I have the opposite result, I feel very happy and have more confidence for the future.''
Troussier recalled how when Xu Jiayin, the property tycoon who was recently named as the seventh richest man in China, took over Evergrande in 2009, he immediately set continental success at the top of his list as a way to make Guangzhou a globally-recognized club. The Asian champion qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup, and a chance to play the European champion.
''For the owner, Asia is very important,'' Troussier said. ''He said from the start that he wanted to be champion of Asia within three years. You can also see that he hired a new coach just as Guangzhou went through to the second round. He really wants this trophy.''
Chinese teams have traditionally struggled in the ACL. That has been all the more painful for fans and media as Japanese and South Korean teams have enjoyed considerable success.
The dismissal of Lee Jang-soo as coach was something of a surprise, given his record, but not a complete shock. The South Korean manager led the team to promotion in 2010 and the title in 2011. He was fired with Guangzhou on top of the 2012 league standings and a day after the team won the group stage in the Asian Champions League.
Yet Guangzhou had been linked with higher-profile coaches since last year and Xu explained in the domestic media the reasoning behind Lee's dismissal: ''It was hard for us to make the decision to let him go, but only by hiring a more high-profile coaching team can the club really develop into an international team.''
Tokyo should provide Lippi with his toughest game yet. The J-League team qualified easily from its group, defeating Beijing Guoan and Australian champion Brisbane Roar along the way.
Japan's other two representatives in the last 16 are also away from home. On Tuesday, Nagoya Grampus faces a long trip to Adelaide United to take on Australia's only remaining representative.
Adelaide knows all about Nagoya's star striker Josh Kennedy. The Australian international has been a hit in Japan since joining Nagoya in 2009 and was the J-League's top goalscorer in 2010 and 2011. The tall forward will be closely watched but coach John Kosmina is confident that his Adelaide team can progress to the final eight.
''Any of the Japanese teams are beatable,'' Kosmina said. ''They've got to make the trip and these are all things that can help us get on with the job. We've got to get our heads in the right space before we go out there and if we do that then I think we've got every chance of being successful.''
Two South Korean teams are at home. 2010 Asian champion Seongnam Ilhwa hosts 2011 J-League winner Kashiwa Reysol on Tuesday with both teams struggling in their domestic leagues.
In the remaining game, Ulsan Horangi takes on Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor on Wednesday.
Whichever teams make it through have a 75 percent chance of meeting Saudi Arabian opposition when the quarterfinals kick off in September and the two geographic halves of the Asian draw come together.
The second-round games from the western half of the draw were completed last week. Al Hilal, Al Ittihad and Al Ahli all booked their spots with Sepahan from Iran taking the other place.