Guangzhou Evergrande earn time to prepare for AFC Champions League semi-final

Big-spending Chinese Super League champions will now face Kashiwa Reysol of Japan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 10:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 September, 2013, 1:38am

Fighting on every front is a drain on the resources of even the biggest clubs, so Guangzhou Evergrande's Marcello Lippi was a happy man when the Chinese Super League agreed to postpone this weekend's fixture against Liaoning Whowin.

The back-to-back domestic champions may well be runaway leaders as they seek a third successive crown, but after becoming the first Chinese club since 2005 to book a place in the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League on Wednesday evening, Guangzhou will need all the rest they can acquire.

A comprehensive 4-1 thrashing of Qatari side Lekhwiya sealed a 6-1 aggregate win for Guangzhou in the competition's quarter-finals, setting up a last-four meeting with Kashiwa Reysol, with the first leg in Japan next Wednesday.

"This is a week that's very welcome for our team," said Lippi after watching his side dismantle their opponents as Dario Conca, Muriqui and Elkeson - with two - all found the back of the net.

"It's very important for us to have time to recuperate physically and psychologically."

Kashiwa had no sooner seen off Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab in Riyadh - by the away goals rule - than Guangzhou's players and officials were picking up their already packed bags and heading for the two private Gulfstream G550 jets laid on by the management of the Evergrande group that would take them home.

Preparations for the next stage in the club's plan for Asian dominance begin in earnest and the clash with the Japanese side throws up at least one intriguing subplot as it sees striker Cleo going head-to-head with his old Guangzhou teammates.

The Brazilian was deemed surplus to requirements at the end of last season at Tianhe Stadium and he was loaned out to Reysol at the start of the year. Now he has the chance to prove himself to the club that ultimately still holds his registration.

Cleo's form in Japan and for Reysol in the AFC Champions League, however, has been far from stellar with the 28-year-old scoring seven times in 21 matches in the J.League and claiming just two in the continental competition.

Reysol are likely to look elsewhere for the inspiration required to deny Guangzhou becoming the first Chinese club to reach the final of a continental competition since Dalian Wanda's unsuccessful appearance in the 1998 Asian Club Championship decider, when they lost on penalties to Pohang Steelers.

Shenzhen Jianlibao were the last Chinese side to qualify for the last four of the tournament, but they were eliminated by Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates in a hotly contested tie, while no Chinese club have been crowned Asian champions since Liaoning FC won the Asian Club Championship back in 1990, when they defeated Nissan FC from Japan.

With the legendary Lippi at the helm of a team boasting China's finest talent and arguably the best foreign players in Asia, Guangzhou are well equipped to see off their Japanese challengers.

Lippi, a winner of the European Champions League with Juventus in 1996 as well as the World Cup with Italy in 2006, is relishing another appearance in the semi-finals of a continental club competition.

"I'm extremely satisfied that we have managed to reach this goal," said Lippi. "Personally, this is my fifth Champions League semi-final.

"We went really deep in this game, and we put all of our efforts into it. This is a club that wants to do well and to reach the maximum of its goals. We are first in the championship in China, so this has been a very good year."

The Italian has the tools at his disposal to ensure it will become even better.