Guangzhou Evergrande aims for AFC Champions League glory
Chinese Super League champions have a date with destiny as they take on two-time winners Al-Ittihad in AFC Champions League quarter-finals
The potential for success outweighs the pressure, says Guangzhou Evergrande captain Zheng Zhi, as the reigning Chinese Super League champions seek to re-write the history books starting with next week's highly anticipated AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg against Saudi Arabia's Al-Ittihad.
Zheng has been ever-present this year as tournament debutants Guangzhou became the first side from the mainland to reach the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League since 2006 by beating Japan's FC Tokyo in May.
With the goal of matching Liaoning's Asian Club Championship success in 1989, Guangzhou must first see off the considerable challenge of two-time winners Al-Ittihad to replicate Shenzhen Jianlibao's run to the 2005 semi-finals, having already matched the achievements of Shandong Luneng in 2005 and Shanghai Shenhua in 2006.
"We should think about the challenge and potential achievement rather than a sense of pressure," said China international Zheng. "We need to play each game with the same level of concentration and commitment before we start talking about winning the AFC Champions League."
Zheng was in the Shandong side who held Al-Ittihad to a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg of their 2005 quarter-final tie before the defending champions ran riot in the return fixture and posted a 7-2 win to advance 8-3 on aggregate on their way to a second consecutive continental title.
Now 32, and after returning to China in 2010 to join then second division side Guangzhou following stints in Britain with Charlton Athletic and Celtic, Zheng is determined to banish memories to ensure Marcello Lippi's side make a strong start in Jeddah ahead of the fixture in Guangzhou at the start of October.
"All the teams are equal. The results of the past are in the past, but we can change the future and we are ready for that challenge," said Zheng, who led Guangzhou back to the top flight in his first season before captaining the side to a maiden Chinese Super League title last year.
"Every game will be tough as all of the teams have good players, but I hope it will be Guangzhou who will stand out as the best team in the end."
Having only taken over at Guangzhou less than two weeks before the last 16 success over FC Tokyo, World Cup-winning coach Lippi has since had over three months to fine-tune his side for the meeting with Al-Ittihad. Under Lippi, Guangzhou have maintained their bid to defend the Super League crown.
"He has made a lot of changes to the way we train and also the tactics," said Zheng. "This is a positive change and I believe he can lead us to a new level."
Zheng, along with a number of Guangzhou teammates including striker Gao Lin, have just returned from representing China against Sweden and Brazil.
Question marks hang over the availability of Paraguay striker Lucas Barrios, who has endured a turbulent start to his Guangzhou career with injury and reportedly seeking a return to Europe at the end of last month.
Also in the AFC Champions League next Wednesday, South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai entertain Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal, Australia's Adelaide United take on Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor, and Iran champions Sepahan face Saudi league runners-up Al-Ahli.