Home support is, of course, what Guangzhou can look to. Meanwhile, the tactical nous of new Romanian boss Cosmin Contra is an asset, as is the midfield guile of new Spanish signing Michel Herrero. But above all, as their fans are all too aware, the rising Chinese giants can count on Moroccan hot-shot Abderrazak Hamdallah's goal-scoring form as the debutants aim to open with a bang.
Indeed, the 24-year-old former Olympic Safi and Aalesund striker was one of the biggest revelations of last season’s Chinese Super League. He joined only at the start of last campaign, missing over one-third of the team’s matches due to injuries. But despite his limited appearances, the dynamic forward proved unstoppable, amassing 22 goals as Guangzhou finished among the top three to earn their maiden AFC Champions League appearance.
His striking tally saw him finished second in last season's goal-scoring chart, trailing Guangzhou Evergrande's Elkeson but leading a host of established star-strikers like Swede Tobias Hysen of Shanghai SIPG, Beijing Guoan's Montenegrin international Dejan Damjanovic and Brazilian Vagner Love from Shandong Luneng. But Hamdallah was quick to point out that he has yet to realize his potential.
"I am still growing as a professional," added the soft-spoken player, whose idols are Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. "I want to continue to improve my skills and I am always trying to play well as a part of the team. But I have not reached my prime yet."
The Chinese league may be fledging compared to the well-developed European leagues, but it is rarely easy for even a star-player to establish his place in the world's most populous nation. Former French star Nicolas Anelka managed a mere three goals during an entire season with Shanghai Shenhua, while his former Chelsea team-mate Didier Drogba also failed to live up to the expectations with the same Chinese side.
Hamdallah, too, failed to find the back of the net in his first two outings as his side came up with two opening draws. With skeptics beginning to point fingers, the player, who finished as the Norwegian league's second best-scorer in the previous season with 15 goals with Aalesund, exploded in his third match. He broke his Chinese duck in rampaging fashion, completing a hat-trick as Guangzhou fought back to win 3-1 at Shanghai Shenxin.
He would smash home another three goals in a 6-2 home drubbing of Hangzhou Greentown, making him the first player to score back-to-back trebles in the C-League. His goal-scoring form culminated in their city derby against the Marcello Lippi-coached Evergrande, when he netted the only goal as his side recorded a spirited victory.
"I am agile, fast and able to play the ball forward," he answered when asked for his major strengths. "And I can finish either from close range or with long-distant shots. I have the patience and determination necessary for a good striker."
The youngest of seven siblings, Hamdallah said that he is indebted to his eldest brother - who is twelve years older - for his consistent support. "I started playing football in the streets with other kids in my hometown of Safi," he recalled. "I continued to play when I went to school. As a teenager I joined a local club with which I played after school and on weekends. My oldest brother was always behind me, supporting me and encouraging me to work hard. He was my mentor and supporter."
On the back of his success in China, Hamdallah translated his club form to the international stage. He struck a hat-trick as Morocco thrashed Central African Republic 4-0 in a friendly, before completing a brace in a 6-1 demolition of Benin. Despite the Atlas Lions' failure to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, he is optimistic that his country will make it to Russia 2018.
"Morocco has been going through transition and I think that was why we failed to reach the World Cup in Brazil. Now our national team are rebuilding and I am confident we will return to the top of (Africa). I am very happy to be a part of the team. I have set double goals for myself: to help Morocco to the World Cup and Guangzhou to their first C-League championship.”