Chinese football has been waiting impatiently for a team capable of being crowned kings of Asian football and Brazilian striker Muriqui believes Guangzhou Evergrande can end the nation’s two-decade absence from the summit of the continental club scene.
Liaoning FC were the last Chinese side to win a continental title when they defeated Japan’s Nissan FC in the final of the Asian Club Championship in 1990, but on Saturday Guangzhou Evergrande will face off against FC Seoul in the first leg of the AFC Champions League hoping to exorcise that 23-year-old demon.
“I am aware of the history of Chinese clubs in this competition and I hope Guangzhou will not only become the next team from China to play in the final, but also win the championship,” said Muriqui, who has scored a remarkable 13 times in 12 games in the competition this season
“It has been one of our goals to reach the AFC Champions League final and it is the number one achievement in my professional career. If we became champions of Asia, it would be an extraordinary achievement for every player and it would be an amazing personal memory.”
Victory would cap a remarkable rise for Guangzhou in just four years. The club was bought by the Evergrande corporation at the start of 2010 after relegation to the second division.
A huge cash injection saw a host of domestic stars, including China national team regulars Gao Lin and Zheng Zhi as well as Muriqui, join the club and Guangzhou won the second division in a canter.
In 2011, they claimed the Chinese Super League and have dominated since, completing their third league title win this month while also reaching the final of the Champions League and the semi-finals of the Chinese FA Cup, where they face Beijing Guoan next month.
Muriqui has been a key component of the club’s success and, along with fellow South Americans Dario Conca and Elkeson, the Brazilian has been the scourge of defences throughout Asian football.
The South American trio contributed all 14 of Guangzhou’s goals in quarters and semis in the Champions League leading up to the final, with Conca netting eight goals in his 12 appearances.
“I have been able to score a lot of goals this season due to the strong support from the rest of the team,” said Muriqui. “Conca and Elkeson give me a lot of support, and together with all the local players, goals will come naturally.
“Conca and Elkeson came from the same league as me so we know how to play together when attacking, and we are also good friends and that makes it fun as well. But every one of the local players is excellent and, as football is a team sport, we cannot play if someone is missing.”
Korean champions FC Seoul stand in way of Guangzhou’s pursuit of history, with the first leg in Seoul on Saturday and the return fixture at Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou on November 9.
“FC Seoul must be a strong team to have already eliminated teams from Saudi Arabia and Iran,” said Muriqui. “I don’t really know a lot about their individual players, but I believe our head coach will make a plan to beat them.”