Marcello Lippi remains cautious about Guangzhou Evergrande's chances of reaching the AFC Champions League final despite their 4-1 rout of Kashiwa Reysol in the semi-final first leg.
The FIFA World Cup™-winning coach, who also led Juventus to the European Champions League title, was wary of "tough" Kashiwa even after the Chinese champions' emphatic away win late on Wednesday. "I don't think we have got (a place in the final) yet," said the veteran campaigner.
"I'm 64 years old this year and have been in the coaching business for 30 years, and from that experience I can tell you that you never know what will happen next in football, and Reysol have ability and were a tough side to play this time."
Guangzhou were rocked by an early goal from on-loan Brazilian striker Cleo, now playing a starring role at Kashiwa, before pouring on the goals after half-time. Muriqui equalised with a thumping strike from close range before a rocket from the left foot of Dario Conca put the visitors ahead with 23 minutes to go.
I'm 64 years old this year and have been in the coaching business for 30 years, and from that experience I can tell you that you never know what will happen next.
Conca scored his second straight from a corner on 82 minutes and Muriqui also completed his brace when he rounded the goalkeeper in the dying seconds. The victory, which underlined Guangzhou's status as tournament favourites, was all the more impressive because Kashiwa had been unbeaten throughout the competition.
Lippi's side are gunning to end a 23-year continental drought for Chinese clubs dating back to Liaoning's 1990 triumph in the Asian Club Championship, the Champions League's predecessor. "We are still on the way to moving on to the next stage. But we want to win to advance to the next round," Lippi said.
Meanwhile Iran's Esteghlal are confident of overturning a 2-0 away defeat to FC Seoul in next Wednesday's return leg at the intimidating Azadi Stadium in Tehran. Goals from Dejan Damjanovic and Go Yo-Han gave Seoul the win but the hosts may rue missing some late chances which could have made next week's away trip more comfortable.
"One of our aims was to score an away goal, we tried a lot but we couldn't score," said Esteghlal coach Amir Ghalenoei in a press release. "But the conditions in Tehran are completely different and I believe that we can solve that problem. It would have been good if we had scored but I think in Tehran we can score two goals. We will attack a lot and we will play to the best of our abilities in the second match."
Both semi-final second legs will be played next Wednesday, with the winners advancing to a two-leg final.