Evergrande savors home sweet home (China Daily)

Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is calling on Guangzhou Evergrande to finish the job at Tianhe Sports Centre stadium on Tuesday night after the 2013 AFC Champions League winner beat Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 in their quarterfinal first leg two weeks ago.

A victory, draw or a loss by no more than three goals will ensure the Chinese champion a semifinal berth in the regional elite club competition.

Evergrande has lost only nine matches in league, FA Cup and AFC Champions League action since it joined the Chinese Super League in 2011.

A 3-1 loss to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, a 2-1 loss to Woorinen in 2012, a 1-0 loss to Osaka Sakura in 2014 and a 2-0 defeat to West Sydney Wanderers are the team’s home losses in the Champions League.

Yielding three goals to a team Evergrande has beaten four times and drawn with once seems unthinkable, especially with Guangzhou boasting international stars Paulihno, Goulart and Robinho, along with the best Chinese players at almost every position.

An own goal from Kashiwa captain Daisuke Suzuki and a spectacular 40-yard free kick from Brazilian Paulinho gave Guangzhou a two-goal lead at halftime in Japan two weeks ago before China striker Gao Lin blasted a third.

Despite striker Masato Kudo netting a late consolation for the host in the dying minutes, a two-goal advantage and three away goals has the Chinese Super League champion eyeing a second AFC Champions League semifinal appearance.

“The atmosphere in Tianhe Sports Centre is wonderful; we have excellent supporters who always give us great support in every game,” said 2002 FIFA World Cup-winning coach Scolari.

“We are grateful to have them by our side and will do our best to achieve a good result for them on Tuesday.

“The first leg of the quarterfinal was fascinating and both sides showed their own merits, although we did a better job in terms of scoring.

“But that has already become history; right now we have to focus on the upcoming match.

“In my opinion, Kashiwa is the strongest opponent we’ve encountered so far in my tenure as Guangzhou coach, and they will certainly make the second leg a tough game for us.”

The quarterfinal first leg at Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium at the end of August was Scolari’s second taste of the AFC Champions League after a spell in charge of Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor, where he took part in the 2009 and 2010 editions of the tournament.

“The AFC Champions League is, and has always been, the top level in Asia,” said the 66-year-old former Brazil and Portugal coach.

“You can see that the best clubs from China, South Korea, Japan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar are all participating in this tournament.

“This proves that the AFC Champions League represents the very best in Asian club football.”

Just three days before the return meeting with the J. League side, Guangzhou faces another tough test on the domestic front when Scolari’s second-place side travels to Super League leader Shanghai SIPG.

“Both Shanghai and Kashiwa are very strong opponents,” said Scolari, whose club sits a point back of Shanghai at the top of the table.

“These two games are both extremely crucial for us and I will need my players to do their best in both of them.”

Also on Tuesday, Qatar champion Lekhwiya must overturn a 4-1 deficit against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in Doha to advance to the semifinals for the first time.

In the first leg, at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium last month, Brazilian Carlos Eduardo scored twice while compatriot Ailton and Khalid Kaabi were also on target as Al Hilal moved closer to a second consecutive semifinal appearance.

With the semifinal first legs set to take place at the end of this month, 2006 champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea or Japanese treble winner Gamba Osaka will face either Guangzhou or Kashiwa.

The winner of Lekhwiya and Al Hilal will meet Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates or Naft Tehran of Iran in the other semifinal.


(China Daily 09/11/2015 page22)