Think big, urges Lippi after Guangzhou thrash Aussies
Chinese giants reach quarter-finals of AFC Champions League but World Cup-winning coach says they have the quality to go further still
Guangzhou Evergrande confirmed their place in the draw for the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League, but reaching the last eight for the second season in a row will not be enough to satisfy World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.
The Italian's side cruised to a 5-1, round-of-16 aggregate win with a 3-0 second-leg victory over Australia's Central Coast Mariners at Tianhe Stadium last night to ensure progress to the quarter-finals thanks to goals from Luis Muriqui, Dario Conca and Gao Lin.
But while Guangzhou were eliminated at the same stage last year by two-time winners Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia, Lippi has set his sights on going further this time around.
"It's a very important target that we've reached and the club will be very happy," said Lippi, whose side also sit atop the Chinese Super League standings.
"It allows us to grow psychologically because it's not easy for the players to play so many matches and keep winning and they need to be stable.
"We have been winning a lot of matches and trying our best to stay calm. But I don't think reaching the quarter-finals is enough. I want to go to the semi-finals if we can."
Guangzhou have been in imperious form both at home and at continental level so far this year, losing just one competitive game all season - against Urawa Reds in the group stages of the Champions League - and are joint top of the Chinese Super League with Shandong Luneng despite playing one game fewer.
They were a class above Central Coast, who had frustrated the Chinese champions in the first leg in Australia but were dealt with swiftly and effectively in front of a raucous crowd of almost 40,000 fans.
Muriqui claimed the opener -his eighth in eight games in the competition - after seven minutes with a finish that gave goalkeeper Mathew Ryan little chance and, in first-half injury time, Conca doubled the advantage from the penalty spot. Gao then put the result beyond doubt just after the midway point in the second half.
The victory was achieved without the presence of striker Lucas Barrios, who was injured in last weekend's 4-1 win over Liaoning Whowin, prompting speculation over whether the Paraguayan would be registered for the next phase of the competition.
Elkeson is the leading scorer in the CSL so far this year, but Guangzhou's Brazilian striker has not been registered for the AFC Champions League, leading to suggestions that former Borussia Dortmund forward Barrios will be replaced.
Lippi sidestepped the issue and insisted his focus would, over the coming months, be squarely on the continued defence of the club's domestic titles as Guangzhou look to secure an unprecedented third consecutive league and cup double.
The draw for the quarter-finals will take place at the Asian Football Confederation's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on June 20, while Guangzhou's next game in the competition will not be until August 21.
"For the next three months we won't be talking about Champions League at all," said Lippi. "We'll just be talking about the [league] championship and the Chinese FA Cup."