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Scolari facing first test at Evergrande

By Yang Xinwei | China Daily | Updated: 2015-06-23 07:30

Lee Jang-soo, Marcelo Lippi, Fabio Cannavaro and now Luiz Felipe Scolari.

All are hard-hitting soccer names. And when it comes to winning, Guangzhou Evergrande is never afraid to open its wallet to add more punch.

South Korean Lee was hired by Evergrande as its manager in 2010 after the ignominy of being relegated to China League One following its involvement in a match-fixing scandal.

Lee led Guangzhou to a first-place finish that season and got it back into the top flight in his first attempt.

In his second season, Evergrande won the Super League title for the first time in its history. He also saw the club set the longest unbeaten streak in the league with 32 wins and 12 draws.

But that was not enough for the ambitious Evergrande.

On May 16, 2012, after sealing a place in the 2012 AFC Champions League knockout stage by beating Buriram United the previous day, it was reported Lee had been dismissed.

A mere day later, Evergrande officially announced Lippi as Lee's replacement in a 2 1/2-year deal worth about $34 million.

Under World Cup-winning coach Lippi, Evergrande achieved a double in his first season by winning the league and domestic cup titles.

In his second season, Lippi led his side to a third consecutive Chinese Super League title before defeating FC Seoul to win the club's first AFC Champions League crown.

Lippi publicly declared his retirement from coaching after steering the side to a fourth successive league title in 2014.

Now, Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning coach Scolari has taken over Evergrande.

The 65-year-old, who signed a 2 1/2 year contract after taking the helm from Italy's former World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, said he plans to maintain the team's winning tradition while tweaking its game where necessary.

"We don't have any pressure at all, although the Italian coaches had achieved great success here," Scolari said.

'Big Phil', whose Asian soccer experience includes stops in Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, said he had been in touch with Guangzhou going back to 2011.

Evergrande Group chairman Xu Jiayin said Scolari's hiring was part of a strategy to attract top coaches who have proven themselves on the international stage.

"We didn't only want a coach's name, we also wanted his ability, experience, management skills and the whole coaching team," said Xu.

"And those had to be widely recognized by the world. So it was a risk-free choice for us to hire such a top-class world coach."

The first major test of Scolari's tenure will come on Aug 26 when Evergrande takes on Japan's Kashiwa Reysol in the quarterfinals of the AFC Champions Leagu.

Guangzhou faced Kashiwa on the way to its 2013 AFC Champions League title and won 8-1 on aggregate in the semifinals.

That rivalry will be renewed when Guangzhou travels to Japan for the first leg.

Evergrande will host the return fixture three weeks later.

"We respect each opponent and we will try our best to play well in the remaining matches," said Guangzhou president Liu Yongzhuo.

"This is the beginning of the second half of our 10-year plan. Within the next five years we want to be among the top 20 teams in the world.

"We have a very good squad right now and I am very satisfied, but we will make some amendments to make us stronger."

In the semis, Guangzhou or Kashiwa will face either 2006 winner Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea or Japan's Gamba Osaka, who lifted the AFC Champions League crown in 2008.

In the West, 2014 finalist and two-time Asian Club Championship winner Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia will meet Michael Laudrup's Qatari champion Lekhwiya in the quarterfinals.

And debutants Naft Tehran take on Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates, with the Iranian side hosting the first leg at Azadi Stadium.

"I hoped that before the draw we would meet Lekhwiya and the dream came true as we will meet our friends from Qatar and I hope that we can show a good game on the 25th of August," said Al Hilal team official Turki Khalid Al Mesned.

"We lost the final last year, but every match has a loser and we have finally got over the effects of losing the final. A week ago we won the King's Cup in Saudi Arabia and that will motivate our club."

The first legs of the quarterfinals will be played on Aug 25 and 26, with the return fixtures on Sept 15 and 16.

The semifinals will also be played on a home-and-away basis on Sept 29-30 and Oct 20-21.


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