Guangzhou Evergrande are strong favourites to win the Asian Champions League on home soil on November 9 after claiming a 2-2 draw in the away leg on Saturday (October 26). Moreover, after recently becoming Chinese champions for the third successive time, the club deemed the “Manchester United of Asia” could be set to become Asia’s first “super club,” according to a feature in The Guardian.
Brazilian attacker Elkeson after scoring in Seoul, image courtesy of The Guardian
A Chinese club hasn’t become Asian champion since Liaoning in 1990, but Guangzhou has swept all before them under World Cup-winning Italian coach Marcello Lippi this year, winning the semi-final 8-1 over two legs.
Although the outcome on Nov. 9 is far from a foregone conclusion, the first leg saw an encouraging performance and result by the Guangzhou team.
South Korea’s capital club took the lead in the 11th minute after a quickly taken free-kick caught the Guangzhou defense flat-footed and Sergio Escudero, a Spain-born naturalized Japanese striker, raced through the center to score.
The Chinese team turned the game around with goals either side of halftime: a header from Brazilian Elkeson after a corner and a close-range finish from Chinese forward Gao Lin.
FC Seoul’s Montenegrin striker Dejan Damajanovic equalised seven minutes from the end, giving the Koreans a better chance at upsetting the odds.
A feature in The Guardian by John Duerden discusses the improving fortunes of the Guangzhou team that was in the second flight as recently as 2010:
Guangzhou are not the only Chinese team to spend big but they did it best, certainly better than Shanghai Shenhua with their ill-fated Anelka-Drogba adventure. Others have followed, such as Guangzhou R&F who are coached by Sven-Goran Eriksson, Lippi’s regular dining partner at a local Italian restaurant, but they are way behind. All this investment is partly the result of a political desire to see the Chinese game first cleansed of corruption and then improved to become Asia’s best. Businesses have been happy to spend, at least in part, to please officials at the local, regional and national level. The new president of China, Xi Jinping, is a big fan.
The one worry is that Evergrande may reduce support if the real estate market in China continues to be sluggish but fans care little and there are more and more of them. The club have plans to open supporters groups elsewhere in Asia as well as Europe and America. Guangzhou are determined to become ever grander on a global scale.
The Tianhe Stadium, where Evergrande play their home games, holds 50,000 but has an average attendance of just 45,000. Therefore you can probably get tickets if you go along on most match days, though obviously not on November 9.
Huang Bowen, one of China’s best players is a midfielder for Evergrande
Some of the useful players on show include Brazilian Elkeson, Argentine Dario Conca who has been described by his employers as “brilliant on the pitch and difficult off it”, and China’s Huang Bowen.
Now hopefully some of this success will rub off on the national team.