Uzbeki giants Kuruvchi are banking on their considerable Brazilian influence to weave some samba magic in the AFC Champion's League semi-finals tomorrow.
The team go into their first leg tie against Adelaide United in Australia on a mission. Not only have the ambitious club hired former FIFA World Player of the Year Rivaldo, but last week they unveiled his compatriot Zico as their new coach. Zico, who coached Japan's national team to the AFC Asian Cup title in 2004, took over from Mirdjalol Kasimov who left to lead Uzbekistan in their drive for a place in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals.
"Rivaldo was the main reason for my arrival in Uzbekistan. He told me a lot about this country and I have discussed all the issues with him," said Zico, who is considered among the greatest players of his generation. "I am quite happy to work here."
The 55-year-old's first task is to guide Kuruvchi into the Champions League final by beating an Adelaide side who are looking to refocus after squandering a 3-0 lead with 30 minutes to go in an A-League match on Friday. The Uzbekis will be keen to exploit the Australians' hectic schedule, with the team being forced to play five games in 14 days, including three A-League fixtures on top of their Champions League matches.
Adelaide last week asked Football Federation Australia to postpone some of their domestic games so they could focus on the ACL, but to no avail. "," said Adelaide chief executive officer Sam Ciccarello, who admitted their form could suffer.
"We're delighted to have progressed so far in this prestigious competition but certainly this is a bit of a setback in terms of our ability to get the best out of our playing squad."
The Japanese are guaranteed to have at least one team in the final before a ball is kicked with Gamba Osaka and defending champions Urawa Reds facing off in Osaka in the other semi-final. Gamba coach Akira Nishino said he was eagerly looking forward to Wednesday's encounter.
"I thought that when the draw was made, there was a good chance that we might be playing against Reds in the semi-finals," he said. "It will be an interesting encounter and I think that it will be a different kind of game from what we are used to in the J. League as it will be a different atmosphere and a different type of competition.
Urawa will be aiming for at least a point to take home ahead of the return leg in Saitama on 22 October. Coach Gert Engles said he was pleased his side avoided another long trip overseas.
"I think it's good that we are able to play a Japanese team, especially when you think about the distances involved in the travel," he said. "We know Gamba very well."