Guoan, Evergrande out to secure last eight spot
Leading Chinese clubs Beijing and Evergrande face stiff tests in AFC Champions League last 16
It's been eight years since two Chinese clubs reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League in the same season, but Beijing Guoan and Guangzhou Evergrande will seek to end that disappointing run over the coming eight days as the optimistic mood within the Chinese Super League continues to grow.
Evergrande's run to the quarter-finals last year was halted by former champions Al Ittihad, while Guoan were eliminated at the group stage of the competition, but 12 months on matters have improved markedly for the club from the capital.
Guoan host tonight's first leg meeting in the round of 16 with South Korean champions FC Seoul having shown a marked improvement from their performances last season, thanks principally to the influence of new coach Aleksandar Stanojevic.
Guoan's best performance in the competition came in 2010 when they reached the last 16 but were eliminated by Suwon Bluewings, but Stanojevic is focused on ensuring his team make a positive impression.
"Last season we fought for the place in the AFC Champions League and now it is our time to show what we can do," said the Serbian coach, who joined the club at the start of the year after a season spent at Dalian Aerbin.
"We are representing China too, so we are responsible for that."
Guoan face an FC Seoul side who cruised to the Korean title last year but have struggled to hit the same levels in 2013. Guoan and Evergrande are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Shandong Luneng and Shenzhen Jianlibao, who reached the last eight in 2005.
No Chinese club have won the AFC Champions League and none have been crowned Asian champions since Liaoning way back in 1990.
Evergrande continue their challenge when they take on Central Coast Mariners in Gosford tomorrow night hoping to build on the showing in their debut season in the competition last year.
World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi will return to the sidelines for the game after serving a one-match suspension handed to him when he was sent to the stands during Evergrande's group stage loss against Urawa Reds.
Evergrande, described by Mariners assistant coach Phil Moss as the "Manchester United of Asia" are strong favourites to progress.
"We are expecting a very tough game in Australia," said Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi.
"But we will do our best to get a good result to take back home with us for the second leg."
Interestingly enough, the Mariners operate under a salary cap of US$2.48 million, approximately a quarter of what Evergrande pay Argentine star Dario Conca.
"They are amazing players," said Mariners' captain John Hutchinson of Evergrande's trio of foreign players, Conca, Muriqui and Lucas Barrios.
"They are fantastic players. If you leave them alone and give them time on the ball they are good enough to destroy us."
Additional reporting by the Associated Press