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Evergrande out to end SIPG's dream

China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-21 07:55
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Brazilian striker Muriqui fires home one of his two goals in Guangzhou Evergrande's 3-0 victory over Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League on Saturday. Fellow Brazilian Ricardo Goulart scored the other goal. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chinese Super League champion Guangzhou Evergrande and big-spending Shanghai SIPG take their domestic rivalry onto the continental stage when managers Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas face off in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Both clubs have become dominant forces in Chinese soccer, with cash-rich SIPG spending heavily to supercharge its attempt to deny Guangzhou a record-extending seventh domestic title.

Guangzhou has won the CSL title in each of the last six seasons and been crowned Asian champion twice since 2013.

And, despite its rival splashing out on Brazilian trio Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson, Scolari's men hold the upper hand going into the first leg.

"We have done very well in our last two games," Scolari said after a 3-0 win over Shanghai Shenhua on Saturday saw his side extend its lead over SIPG in the league to eight points.

"The players repaid my trust with an excellent performance. We are a team and working together for the championship.

"I can't be sure about our line-up for next week's Asian Champions League game, it will depend on the players' situation at that moment.

"But after Paulinho's departure and Huang Bowen's injury our midfield faces challenges."

Evergrande has been weakened by the sale of Brazilian Paulinho to Barcelona after the former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder played a key role in an underperforming Guangzhou navigating its way through the earlier stages of the competition.

The 29-year-old scored five times in eight games, including in the away-goals win over Japanese champion Kashima Antlers in the last 16.

"Paulinho's a great player and was an important member of our team," Guangzhou captain Zheng Zhi said.

"But every team has players come and go. Of course his departure will have some impact on us, but we believe his spot can be filled by lots of players in our team.

"We have won so many titles over the years and it was not because of one player, it was down to the achievements of the team. We all contributed to the team and I have no doubt our midfield players will help the team a lot."

While Evergrande leads in the league, SIPG holds the upper hand in the Chinese FA Cup, with Villas-Boas' team claiming a 2-1 win when the two teams met in the first leg of the semifinals played last week.

But with its challenge for the league title ebbing away, the pressure is mounting on ex-Chelsea and Spurs boss Villas-Boas to take SIPG into the semifinals of the Asian Champions League for the first time in the club's history.

"Next week's match we will use different tactics," Villas-Boas said after his side's loss against Guizhou Zhicheng on Saturday. "Today we sent out our best team, but failed to achieve the ideal result."

The winner of the Chinese duel will meet either Urawa Red Diamonds or Kawasaki Frontale, both from Japan, in the semifinals.

In the west of the continent, Iran's Persepolis meets Al Ahli from Saudi Arabia and last year's beaten finalist, Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates, will take on Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal.


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