Lippi hopes for Brazilian treat as Evergrande face Qatar’s Lekhwiya
Head coach banks on Elkeson to take Guangzhou through quarter-finals
With World Cup and Uefa Champions League winners medals already in his possession, Marcello Lippi's pursuit of the top prize in Asian club football continues today as Guangzhou Evergrande face Qatar's Lekhwiya in their AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Reigning two-time Chinese Super League champions and current runaway leaders, Guangzhou went out in the quarters this time last year. But Lippi insists this is a much stronger team as he tries to hand Chinese football its first continental title.
"The team has grown in every aspect since I arrived and obviously we are ready, but I can't give a conclusion, all I can say is we are ready," said the 65-year-old.
"We have reached the quarter-finals and we are anxious ahead of the match, but we will try our best to satisfy our fans and we will give our best. We are facing a team who are well trained and physically ready, but we will try our best."
Brazilian Elkeson has been added to the squad for the knockout stage in place of departed Paraguay international striker Lucas Barrios.
And with the 24-year-old having scored 20 goals in 21 domestic appearances this season, he could prove the difference on the continental stage. Compatriot Muriqui is also the top scorer in the AFC Champions League with eight goals.
"I am confident that Elkeson can reproduce his form we have seen in the Chinese Super League to his international debut in the AFC Champions league and score goals for us," added Lippi.
"It is not easier for us this year. This tournament is always hard to win. We are focused on the quarter-final first leg and then the second leg, and only if we pass through the semi-finals, we will then focus on the final."
With a capacity crowd anticipated at Tianhe Sport Centre, Guangzhou will look to build a first-leg advantage ahead of the return fixture in Doha on September 18. Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab or Japan's Kashiwa Reysol await in the semi-final.
Lekhwiya, meanwhile, are yet to begin their domestic campaign having finished second last season, although Eric Gerets' side recorded two wins in the pre-season Sheikh Jassim Cup last month having also lost just once en route to a maiden appearance in the last eight of the AFC Champions League.
"They don't have a weak point and we have to be at the top level to have a chance to go through," said former Belgium international defender Gerets.
"We are fresh, but we don't have the experience of playing 10-15 games this season so it is an advantage for a team who has played a lot of games this season."