Marcello Lippi has hailed a "determined" Guangzhou Evergrande after they strode into their first AFC Champions League final and took a big step towards a famous trophy treble.
The FIFA World Cup™-winning coach was buzzing with praise after the Chinese team took apart previously unbeaten Kashiwa Reysol 8-1 on aggregate in the two-legged semi-final. Brazilian ace Muriqui hit two to reach a tournament record of 13 goals as red-shirted Guangzhou followed last week's 4-1 away win with a 4-0 thrashing of the Japanese visitors on Wednesday.
"In the away game, we showed a lot of authority and personality," said the Lippi. "We were very determined tonight and we scored in the first half, and then in the second half, we got into our rhythm and we were solid in defence."
Free-spending, and now free-scoring, Guangzhou are the first Chinese team to reach the fixture since it was revamped as the AFC Champions League in 2003. Dalian were the last Chinese side to get this far, in the Asian Club Championship of 1998, and China PR has not had a regional winner since Liaoning in 1990.
Guangzhou, with 19 goals for and three against in their six knockout games, will be favourites in the final against FC Seoul, who beat Esteghlal 4-2 on aggregate.
But Lippi said first up for Guangzhou, whom he steered to the domestic double last season, was retaining their Chinese Super League crown this weekend. On Sunday they will be hosted by Shandong Luneng, their nearest rivals in the league, who are 11 points adrift with four games left to play.
"We are now going to think about Sunday's game and try to win the championship, and then we will focus on the [Champions League] final," said Lippi.
With Guangzhou also in the Chinese FA Cup semi-finals, Lippi is on course to pick up three trophies in his first full season with the team based in China's industrial south.
All or nothing for South Koreans
FC Seoul coach Choi Yong-Soo said his players had done an excellent job after their 2-2 draw at Tehran's intimidating Azhadi Stadium, following last week's 2-0 home win. But he warned the "real challenge has just begun" for the South Korean champions as they size up the task of containing Guangzhou's formidable attack.
"We have got to lock horns with the Chinese side in the final, and this is where we can prove to Asia that we are also a good team," he said. We can use the long gap between now and our next game to gear up for the clash
"Champions and runners-up in this tournament will be very differently looked upon, so we will try our best to come out winners."
The final will be played over two legs in October and November.