Marcello Lippi says Guangzhou Evergrande's AFC Champions League win is a major boost for Chinese football, ending a drought for the nation's clubs stretching back nearly a quarter of a century.
The FIFA World Cup™-winning Italian coach, who already has multiple league titles and a UEFA Champions League win on his impressive CV, wrote his name into Chinese football history with the win on away goals after a 1-1 second leg home draw against FC Seoul on Saturday.
Their Asian title gives Evergrande a place in December's FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco, when their reputation as the continent's best will be tested against the likes of global counterparts Bayern Munich, Atletico Mineiro and Monterrey.
Evergrande reached the AFC final in impressive form, smashing eight goals past their semi-final opponents, Japan's Kashiwa Reysol, after scoring freely throughout the tournament. They drew the first leg of the final 2-2 in Seoul.
"Winning this cup is very important for Chinese football," said Lippi, now eyeing an unprecedented continental and domestic treble after romping to the league title in his first full season at the helm. "From our side, we grew a lot and we tried to reach this level of being able to compete at international level with other teams.
"We won again this year (the Chinese league), which is something positive for Chinese football and for Guangzhou Evergrande," the 65-year-old added. "We were able to do this two years in a row so the thing that we missed out last year that we recuperated this year is enough effort and will to win the Champions league."
The last Chinese side to rule Asia were Liaoning, who won the former Asian Club Championship in 1990, before the long barren spell for China's clubs. Lippi's men, who stormed to their third Chinese title, losing just one game and finishing a yawning 18 points ahead of runners-up Shandong Luneng, face Beijing Guoan in the domestic FA Cup semi-finals later this month.
Lippi joined Guangzhou last year after Korea Republic's Lee Jangsoo had laid the groundwork for their resurgence and he has now won the top club competitions on two continents after success with Juventus in 1996.
South American flair - in the form of Argentine Dario Conca and Brazilians Elkeson and Muriqui - along with the bulk of the Chinese national team, have also helped Guangzhou reach the summit of Asian football. And with the continued financial backing of one of China's biggest property developers, Evergrande Real Estate Group, Lippi's men will be looking to make an even bigger impact on the international stage.