Guangzhou Goaling for Glory
After annihilating Japanese contenders Kashiwa 8-1 on aggregate, Guangzhou Evergrande FC are on the brink of completing an historic treble; the Chinese Super League (CSL), the domestic FA Cup and the Asian Champions League (ACL).
The club from Canton has sewn up the CSL with four games to spare. Beijing Guo’an FC await Guangzhou in the FA Cup semi-final; and no-one gives the capital club a chance. Domestic champions themselves two years ago, they are no match for the Evergrande juggernaut, who have beaten every other CSL team this season.
The only thing that matters for the Guangzhou faithful, of whom 40,000 attend games regularly, is the Asian Champions League final between themselves and FC Seoul – to which their attention is firmly fixed.
Their prolific campaign has been spearheaded by the cunning of the league’s record signing ($10m) Dario Conca and masterminded by World-Cup winning Italian coach Marcelo Lippi.
With such high-calibre names in the Evergrande number, their rise may come as no surprise to many. However, messieurs Drogba and Anelka, players who had scored in and won the European Champions League Final months before their signings, were unable to make a comparable impact in their ill-fated stints at Shanghai Shenhua.
Captained by Zheng Zhi, the central midfielder who played in the English Premier League for Charlton, and in Scotland for Celtic, Guangzhou Evergrande cannot be accused of over reliance on their foreign contingent. Only four of 39 players registered in the first team squad are not Chinese – and apart from Conca (twice voted Brazilian League MVP), the motley mix of three includes Muruqui, Elkeson and Young-Gwon. Many Chinese believe Evergrande’s success represents real progress for Chinese football and although the national team’s chances of qualifying for Brazil 2014 were distinguished a long time ago, there could be genuine reason for optimism.
Evergrande are favourites to win the two-legged final, which will see them making the trip to Korea on October 26th, and hosting their opponents at Tianhe Stadium on November 9th. Guangzhou will be the first Chinese team to play this final, and Marcelo Lippi the first coach to win both the European Champions League and the ACL, should they triumph.
A lot is riding on the following games for Guangzhou Evergrande Football Club, who carry the hopes of the most populous nation on earth on their shoulders. Let’s see if they can finally put China on the world footballing map.