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  • Apr 20, 2014
  • Updated: 11:03am
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SOCCER

Guangzhou Evergrande carrying the hopes of a nation in AFC Champions League

Supporters from all over the country will be willing on Marcello Lippi's side to end decades of despair in clash against South Korea's FC Seoul

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 10:40pm

Expectation levels are at fever pitch, with the whole of China seemingly supporting Guangzhou Evergrande as Marcello Lippi's side seek to exorcise a long-lingering hoodoo with victory in Saturday night's final of the AFC Champions League.

A win over South Korean champions FC Seoul at Tianhe Stadium would be preferred, but even a low scoring draw will be enough to claim the continental crown and for China's years of footballing dejection to be forgotten, temporarily at least.

Guangzhou's run to the final has galvanised the nation behind the Cantonese club and, after 23 years without an Asian title of any shape or size, Choi Yong-soo and his men are all that stand between Chinese soccer and euphoric celebration.

We have belief in ourselves and we believe we can make it and that we can go all the way
Marcello Lippi

Not that Lippi is allowing the magnitude of the occasion, which will be played out in front of a packed stadium and China's largest sporting television audience of the year, to consume him.

For a man who has seen and done it all, sending out a team in a game for which tickets are changing hands at 6,000 yuan (HK$7,600) on the black market, is little more than another day at work.

"Anything can happen, there's still 90 minutes to go and we will see what happens," said the Italian World Cup and Uefa Champions League winner.

"We are all ready. All of our injured players are ready. We have a lot of respect for FC Seoul, but we have belief in ourselves and we believe we can make it and that we can go all the way, hopefully along with our fans. This is something that will be positive for us.

"There's not much pressure for us, just the enthusiasm to win. We all want to win because it is important for our team.

"We have had one-and-a-half years to work with this team and we have grown a lot and hopefully we have reached international level and hopefully it will go our way."

Lippi's team are expected to remain unchanged from the side who drew 2-2 in Seoul's World Cup Stadium two weeks ago and who saw off Japan's Kashiwa Reysol in the semi-finals.

At stake, in addition to being able to call themselves China's first Asian champions since Liaoning in 1990, is a first prize of US$1.5 million and a place in December's Fifa Club World Cup in Morocco, where Guangzhou could eventually face European champions Bayern Munich.

But before that comes the meeting with an FC Seoul side who welcome back World Cup right back Cha Du-ri. Cha missed the first leg owing to suspension while Korean international Kim Chi-woo should also be fit to start the match.

In some quarters the final has been billed as a battle between the foreign players on both teams' rosters, but Lippi said any win will be a boost for the domestic game ahead of all else.

"Guangzhou is a Chinese team and we have the same number of foreigners as any other team," he said.

"We are a Chinese team and if this goes our way then it would be something that's very positive for Chinese football

"It's not going to be an easy match, it's going to be a hard game for both teams, but both have the capability and will to win the game. We count on the support of all the fans to help us and guide us to victory."

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