Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande face toughest test

Updated: 18 September 2012 16:57 IST

Marcello Lippi leads China's Guangzhou Evergrande into one of the biggest matches in their history on Wednesday when they take on two-time winners Al Ittihad in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.

Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande face toughest test

Marcello Lippi leads China's Guangzhou Evergrande into one of the biggest matches in their history on Wednesday when they take on two-time winners Al Ittihad in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.


The World Cup-winning coach, under instructions to bring Asian glory to the Chinese champions on their tournament debut, takes a team brimming with foreign talent to Jeddah, where they will face the competition's most successful club.

Al Ittihad are one of three Saudi sides in the last eight along with Al Hilal, who travel to South Korea to face Ulsan Hyundai, and Al Ahli, who are meeting Iranian champions Sepahan for the third time this year.

The remaining match features Adelaide United against Uzbek title-holders Bunyodkor, as the Asian club championship resumes after a four-month break. The quarter-finals' second legs are on October 2 and 3.

But much of Wednesday's focus will be on Jeddah for the classic east-west match between Al Ittihad and Guangzhou, pitting the competition's only double champions against the rich and ambitious newcomers from China.

"All the teams are equal to us. The results of the past are in the past, but we can change the future and we are ready for that challenge," said Guangzhou captain Zheng Zhi, in a press release issued by organisers.

With back-to-back wins in 2004 and 2005, a runner-up finish in 2009 and a semi-final appearance last year, Al Ittihad have the best record of any team in the 10-year-old championship, and are the only former winners left this season.

Unbeaten in 20 matches since Spanish coach Raul Caneda arrived in February, Al Ittihad topped their group with 16 of a possible 18 points and crushed Iran's Persepolis 3-0 to reach their sixth quarter-final in nine years.

Guangzhou meanwhile were in the Chinese second division just two years ago but after huge investment by their owners, real estate company Evergrande, they have become the first Chinese team to reach the Asian quarter-finals since 2006.

The club appointed Lippi in May and just a fortnight later the Italian, who led his country to their fourth World Cup triumph in 2006, was in charge when Guangzhou beat FC Tokyo 1-0 in the round of 16 to seal the last-eight berth.

They continued to spend in the summer, hiring Paraguayan forward Lucas Barrios from German champions Borussia Dortmund, Korean defender Kim Young-kwon from Omiya Ardija and Chinese midfielder Huang Bowen from Jeonbuk Motors.

The newcomers bolster a squad already featuring Argentine record signing Dario Conca, an attacking midfielder who became one of the world's best paid players when he joined Guangzhou last year.

Al Ittihad's Saudi rivals Al Hilal are still chasing their first Champions League title, despite twice winning the competition's precursor, the Asian Club Championship, as well as the Asian Cup Winners' Cup.

Ulsan, the only Korean club still standing, have fond memories of their previous home game against a Saudi club, a 6-0 thumping of Al Shabab in the 2006 quarter-finals.

The third Saudi side, Al Ahli, will make their first appearance in the quarter-finals since 2005 when they take on former group rivals Sepahan at the Foolad Shahr Stadium.

In the only quarter-final not involving a Saudi club, Adelaide will look to extend their good record against Bunyodkor when they entertain the Uzbek champions at Hindmarsh Stadium.

The Reds beat Bunyodkor 3-1 on aggregate to reach the 2008 final. And they got the better of them again this year when they won 2-1 in Tashkent and drew 0-0 in South Australia to advance as Group E winners.



Topics : Football
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