Guangzhou Evergrande host Urawa Reds in AFC Champions League clash
Super League champs Evergrande plan to build on last season's quarter-final appearance as season kicks off with Urawa Reds clash
Guangzhou Evergrande go into the new AFC Champions League season with coach Marcello Lippi confident that the club can build on their impressive showing during their debut in the competition last year.
The Chinese Super League champions - who retained both their league and Chinese FA Cup titles last season - reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 AFC Champions League, only to fall to two-time winners Al-Ittihad from Saudi Arabia.
Tonight will see Guangzhou go head to head with another former winner, as J.League outfit Urawa Reds take on Lippi's side at Tianhe Stadium in the clubs' opening Group F encounter of this year's campaign. And the Italian World Cup winner is itching for the action to start.
"I am not nervous, but I am a bit excited," he said. "The new season is about to start and I'm happy. I don't like it when there is only training; one match every three days is a good tempo.
"We are ready for tomorrow's match, and hopefully we can show our spirit and style in the game."
With the Chinese Super League not due to start until the second weekend of March, Guangzhou are likely to go into the game rusty, as Lippi seeks to integrate the club's new signings into his squad.
Out has gone Brazilian striker Cleo, a regular scorer in last year's AFC Champions League, but now on loan to J.League side Kashiwa Reysol, while new Brazilian signing Elkeson has not been registered as one of the club's three foreign players, with those spots filled by Dario Conca, Muriqui and Lucas Barrios.
New goalkeeper Zeng Cheng has joined from Henan Construction, along with Zhao Peng, while Yi Teng is another new recruit for the club as they seek to add the Asian title to the back-to-back Chinese crowns they have claimed.
"The players we brought in during the winter are all good ones," said Lippi. "This year, we have to play in different tournaments, and that's why we need lots of good players. Elkeson can't play in the AFC Champions League due to registration rules, but the rest have opportunities.
"During winter training, unfortunately I only had half of the team available," he added. "Zhao Xuri and Feng Xiaoting came back with injuries and they were unable to take part in training. Feng has now recovered and is back, but he hasn't played a lot. But despite this, I am confident my team is ready."
Guangzhou meet a Urawa side featuring the core of the squad that claimed the title in 2007 to become the first Japanese side to win the AFC Champions League. Last season, they finished third in the J.League to qualify for the competition.
Boasting former Leicester City and Japan midfielder Yuki Abe and up-and-coming striker Genki Haraguchi, Lippi knows Urawa will be no pushover.
"I've been quite impressed by the Japanese team," he said. "They are good in terms of skills, and the two wings are actively involved in the attack.
"I hope that my players can play calmly, but not passively. I expect to see their fighting spirit and desire to win."
While Guangzhou entertain Urawa, Jiangsu Sainty travel to face South Korean champions FC Seoul in Group E in their first-ever appearance in the AFC Champions League.
"This is the first time we will participate in the AFC Champions League, while FC Seoul have a lot of experience and they have won the K-League twice recently," said Jiangsu coach Dragan Okuka, who steered his team to second place in last year's Chinese Super League.
"FC Seoul have not changed their squad from last season, which means they are still strong, but we also have similar players compared to last season and we are confident we can continue to develop, and I hope that this is the next step for the club.
"The match is the first game of the season for both teams, so all we can do is do our best."