AFC Champions League

China’s Zheng ready to renew rivalry with Hong Kong as Guangzhou prepare for Eastern challenge

Chinese champions’ captain insists his team won’t be taking Eastern lightly in the AFC Champions League, having learned a painful lesson on national duty last year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 4:26pm

Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao captain Zheng Zhi insists his team won’t be taking Eastern lightly in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday night, having learned a painful lesson on national duty against Hong Kong.

The big-spending Chinese champions play Hong Kong’s at Tianhe Stadium in a match that has many echoes of the two World Cup qualifying matches China and Hong Kong played in 2015.

Zheng’s side were expected to trounce the minnows from the Special Administrative Region in those games, but drew both 0-0.

Many of the same players will be in action for both Guangzhou and Eastern, with Chan Yuen-ting’s side – the first ever Hong Kong team to reach the group stage of the competition – hoping to pull off a similar upset.

“Tomorrow our mindset will be very important,” said Zheng, who was accused by Hong Kong and Eastern goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai of calling Yapp “a dog” in the World Cup qualifiers.

“This match might seem easy for some of you, but not me or our coach. It’s going to be quite difficult because it’s our first match of the season.

“We have some knowledge of the strategy of Eastern and I don’t think it’s an easy draw at all. We know we have to compete we hope to win and it’s very important for us to get three points.”

Guangzhou, Asian champions in 2013 and 2015, surprisingly crashed out of the competition at the group stage last season.

Despite being at the forefront of Chinese Super League clubs’ huge transfer spending on foreign players in recent years, they have not signed anyone in the winter transfer window. Evergrande chairman Hui Ka-yan said recently that he was tightening the purse strings and wanted an all-Chinese team by 2020 – although he has also demanded that his team win all four trophies this term, and Guangzhou are on huge cash bonuses for every win and goal in the Champions League.

Hong Kong’s Chan Yuen-ting ready to take on the mighty ‘Big Phil’ Scolari as Eastern make Champions League bow

Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari seemed in a testy mood ahead of the game, knocking back an easy opportunity to salute the achievements of his counterpart at Eastern – Chan is the first woman coach ever to win a domestic league.

“She is the head coach of the Hong Kong Eastern and I am the head of Evergrande,” was all the Brazilian World Cup winner had to say.

“Tomorrow’s match is very important and I think the key to win the match is to play at our normal level. Of course the first official match will always be difficult and I think our players will make some mistakes, but by making these mistakes we can become stronger that’s the most important thing.

Coming full circle: Pioneer female coach Chan Yuen-ting wants a flying start to 2017

“We’re fully prepared for the match and during the last stage of training [camp in Portugal] we had a chance to improve our stamina and took part in a friendly that will serve us well for tomorrow’s match.”

Guangzhou’s record signing, 42 million Jackson Martinez, has not been included in their Champions League squad after a less than impressive debut season.

Brazilian striker Ricardo Goulart was CSL top scorer with 19 last season but netted only three in the Champions League, five less than his tally in 2015.

He and former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho, and another Brazilian Alan, make up Guangzhou’s foreign contingent, with South Korean defender Kim Young-gwan, who won the title with Jeonbuk last season, their Asian foreigner.