Ambitious Guangzhou eye continental glory
© AFP

Marcello Lippi, one of the most successful managers of the modern era, has a proven record of achieving his stated aims. Throughout his three-decade coaching career, the Italian has won five Serie A titles, a UEFA Champions League crown and, above all, the FIFA World Cup™.

Now, the 65-year-old Italian is seeking to add a fresh chapter to his bulging resume. Having led Guangzhou Evergrande to the last eight in the club's maiden AFC Champions League campaign last year, the former Italy and Juventus boss has now fixed his sights on winning Asia's most prestigious competition this time around.

"We were unlucky in our first Asian campaign last year," said Lippi in a recent promotional film produced by the club entitled Victory in Sight. "We were narrowly edged out (against Al Ittihad) by a mere goal in the same stage last year, although we put in a brilliant performance in the second leg at home.

"Once again we made it into the quarter-finals this year in only our second Asian appearance. We have made impressive progress over the past year and we are hoping to demonstrate our ambitions with our fine displays. We are expecting to continue our good run on the Asian stage."

Unstoppable form
Awaiting Lippi and his side in the last-eight are Qatari champions Lekhwiya - another relatively new face in Asian continental football - who eliminated Saudi giants Al Hilal in the Round of 16. Boasting a prolific striking duo in Qatar international Sebastian Soria and Tunisian Youssef Msakni, the Doha-based side are expected to pose a big threat for Guangzhou but Lippi, boosted by their sweeping form in both home and Asian competition, remains unfazed ahead of their first leg clash at home in a fortnight's time.

"My job is to help the team improve, rather than analysing the rivals," said Lippi, who took Juventus to dual European glory by clinching both the UEFA Champions League and European Super Cup in 1996. "It doesn't matter whether the opponents are strong or weak as long as we are making progress. We have become stronger in attack, which allows us to have more options."

Indeed, this year's Champions League campaign has so far seen the Chinese champions improve game after game. Having won a group also featuring 2006 winners Jeonbuk Motors and 2007 champions Urawa Red Diamonds, Lippi’s charges proceeded to rout Australian kings Central Coast Mariners with a 5-1 aggregate to storm into the quarter-finals for a second consecutive time.

Their form on the home front is even more eye-catching. The reigning Chinese Super League champions have been running riot so far this season, maintaining an undefeated run after 19 matches, securing 16 wins and three draws. With 13 games remaining, the runaway leaders, boasting a 14-point gap ahead of second-placed Shandong Luneng in the table, are well on course for their third successive domestic title.

Fresh reinforcements
The team’s roster is as impressive as their results. Seven players, with captain Zheng Zhi the most notable, featured prominently for the national team as China PR finished runners-up ahead of Australia and hosts Korea Republic in the recent EAFF East Asian Cup. And their line-up of imports are second to none, with Brazilian hotshot Muriqui, who is topping the Champions League scoring-chart with eight goals, spearheading the attacking-line, while mercurial Dario Conca is the team’s playmaker.

To provide the already-enviable line-up with fresh impetus, on-song marksman Elkeson has been added to Guangzhou's Champions League squad. The 24-year-old former Botafogo striker has become Lippi's biggest revelation this season, scoring 19 goals to establish a seven-goal cushion at the top of the local league’s scoring-chart.

"I hope I can maintain my goal-scoring rate in the Asian campaign," remarked the in-form striker, who can score with either feet as well as possessing strong aerial ability. "I hope I will score in the Champions League as regularly as in the Super League and help Guangzhou become Asian champions."

Another notable reinforcement is Zheng Long, whose service was secured last month from Qingdao Jonoon in Guangzhou’s build-up to the Lekhwiya showdown. The 25-year-old midfielder exploded on the local scene two years ago, providing 13 assists as Qingdao finished among the top six.

"I owe thanks to coach Lippi for his faith in me," said the dynamic midfielder ahead of his Champions League debut. "The Asian competition provides me with a perfect setting on which I can showcase what I am capable of. It is a chance I must cherish and I hope I can provide the team with added thrust and drive."