1st June, 2012
SINGAPORE: World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi savoured a perfect start to his Asian career after Guangzhou Evergrande took a big step forward for China by reaching the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.
The silver-haired Italian cut an anxious figure in the fevered atmosphere of Guangzhou’s Tianhe stadium, but he later hailed an “excellent performance” after his new club’s vital 1-0 victory over FC Tokyo late on Wednesday.
Debutants Guangzhou became the first Chinese team to reach the last eight since 2006, and at the expense of the only Japanese side left—meaning the J-League is unrepresented in the quarter-finals.
South Korea have just one team standing in the form of Ulsan Hyundai, in an unusually weak showing by the K-League and J-League, which have provided five of the last six champions as well as last year’s runners-up.
Guangzhou have spent big in their quest for Asian success and their free-flowing attack, inspired by South American imports Dario Conca, Muriqui and goal-scorer Cleo, continually penetrated the Tokyo defence.
“We created many opportunities to score and played hard. Our opponent also created several attacking threats,” said Lippi.
“The victory can be attributed to the excellent performance of each and every player. If our attackers had taken their chances, we would have scored more goals.”
The win maintained an unbeaten start for the Italian, who took charge just two weeks ago on a reported salary of 10 million euro ($12.4 million) with the remit of securing Asian glory for the ambitious Chinese champions.
Lippi’s reign had started with a low-key 1-0 win and 1-1 draw against the Chinese Super League’s bottom two clubs. Guangzhou now go into next month’s draw for the two-legged quarter-finals, which start in September.
Chinese football has long languished under the shadow of corruption and a failing national team, but recent expenditure—including French striker Nicolas Anelka’s move to Shanghai Shenhua—has helped raise standards.
Ulsan beat Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol 3-2 at home in Wednesday’s other fixture, while Australia’s Adelaide United, who had to win a play-off to qualify for the competition, and Uzbek team Bunyodkor won a day earlier.
Three Saudi teams—two-time winners Al Ittihad, Al Hilal and Al Ahli—and Sepahan of Iran, who all won last week, will also go into the draw to be held on June 14.