Evergrande carries Chinese hopes in ACL

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-23 23:18:02

Chinese soccer has hit some low points in recent years, but not in the Asian Champions League (ACL) thanks to Guangzhou Evergrande.

The Chinese powerhouse will seek to cap an outstanding season when it plays South ­Korea's FC Seoul in the first leg of the ACL final in Seoul on Saturday, with the second leg in Guangzhou on November 9.

It's not much of an exaggeration to say Evergrande carries the hopes of an entire nation. Evergrande is already the first Chinese side to reach the final in 15 years, but victory would make them the first Chinese champions in the modern era and the second-ever after Liao­ning FC in 1989.

In contrast, this is the fifth consecutive year a team from South Korea has made the ­final. Since 2006, South Korean teams have won the ACL four times while Japanese teams have won twice, a sign of the gulf between China and its East Asian neighbors.

Guangzhou walked away with the domestic title this season, their third consecutive one, while steamrolling Asian opposition in the Champions League. Evergrande crushed Japan's Kashiwa Reysol 4-1 and 4-0 in the semifinals, while Australian and Qatari clubs were similarly dispatched in the preceding stages.

FC Seoul aren't likely to be intimidated by the occasion. The five-time South Korean champions earned hard-fought wins over Saudi and Iranian teams. They also ousted Beijing Guoan in the first knockout stage, so Beijing fans have cause to put aside ­domestic ­rivalry to ­support their Can­tonese ­brethren.

Evergrande's success is not surprising when you look at its squad. It boasts a boatload of Chinese internationals including stalwarts like Zheng Zhi and Gao Lin, but its best ­players are its South ­Americans. ­Unlike other ­Chinese teams who signed famous but ­aging foreign stars, Evergrande chose to buy younger, lesser-known talents and this has paid off. ­Argentinian Dario Conca, whose salary is one of the world's highest, and Brazilians Muriqui and Elkeson have spearheaded Evergrande's ­attack, scoring a whopping 25 goals in Asia this season. These players are ably managed by Italian Marcelo Lippi, who coached his country to a World Cup title in 2006.

Unfortunately, Evergrande may not be the same next season. Several players may have caught the attention of European clubs, including 24-year-old defender Zhang Linpeng, tipped to be the next Chinese to play in Europe, and South Korean Kim Young-gwon, 23. Conca is also not certain to stay, given his past disagreements with the club, according to Wild East Football, a website about Chinese soccer.

Even the coach might leave as Lippi is being tipped for China's national soccer team. China's embarrassing 1-1 result against minnows Indonesia in Asian Cup qualifying last week has only intensified calls for this from Chinese media and the public.

With all this in mind, the ­finals should be a great matchup.

Hengda, jia you!

Posted in: Soccer

blog comments powered by Disqus