SOCCER

Evergrande's dip in form down to fatigue: Zheng Zhi

Tiredness is a big factor behind Guangzhou players' lack of fluency on the pitch, says captain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 12:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 9:29am

Guangzhou Evergrande captain Zheng Zhi believes the World Cup break is coming at just the right time as he and his teammates aim to maintain their dominance of the regional game.

The reigning Asian and Chinese champions are top of the domestic standings and into the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League, but Marcello Lippi's team have struggled to hit the heights of 2013 when they conquered both the domestic and continental stages.

Throughout much of the first half of 2014 Guangzhou have lacked the fluency of last year, and their dip in form has coincided with the departure of Argentinian playmaker Dario Conca.

We haven't been as stable as last season, but losing Dario Conca's not the only reason
Zheng Zhi

But Zheng believes fatigue rather than Conca's return to Brazilian club Fluminense has hurt his team the most.

"We haven't been as stable as last season, but losing Dario Conca's not the only reason," he said on Wednesday at the draw for the AFC Champions League quarter-finals, where Guangzhou were slated to face Australia's Western Sydney Wanderers in August.

"Conca's gone and we can't be thinking about him. The reason is that last year we played in the Fifa Club World Cup and we only had a short preseason preparation and that has made many players tired or injured.

"This month, during the World Cup, is very important for us because we can take a break and then, after the World Cup, we'll be better.

"Last year after the Club World Cup we had a short holiday, but this time we have two weeks' rest and it's very important for every player to have a short break, to give us some rest and then we will come back better physically."

Guangzhou take on the Australian side in August knowing victory over Western Sydney will move them into the semi-finals and a possible repeat of last year's final against FC Seoul.

Seoul are due to take on fellow South Koreans Pohang Steelers in the quarter-finals.

"I'm confident we can win the title again because we have the ability to achieve that," said Zheng. "Winning last year helped a lot. It was good experience especially playing in the quarters, the semis and the final, and that experience will help us again this year."