Saturday's Chinese FA Cup final marked Dario Conca's last match for Guangzhou Evergrande on Chinese soil as the Argentinian attacking midfielder is set to return to his former club Fluminense after this month's FIFA Club World Cup.
The midfielder, wearing the captain's armband, scored the match-winner as his hosts side came from behind to defeat Guizhou Renhe 2-1, although it was the visitors who won 3-2 on aggregate, courtesy of their 2-0 first-leg victory a week ago.
Despite losing the FA Cup title, Conca earned the competition’s Most Value Player award as a result of his outstanding displays throughout the tournament - another fabulous feather in his cap after being named the Chinese Super League’s Player of the Year for the 2013 campaign.
Conca, referred to as the C-League's best imported player by coach Marcello Lippi, was treated to a minute-long salute from the 40,000 home supporters, who bade him farewell and thanked him for his contribution during his two-and-a-half years with Guangzhou.
"It was my last game (for Guangzhou) today," he told local press after a touching farewell ceremony, during which he kissed the pitch and shed tears. "I was sad I failed to help my team to another honour, but I thank our fans for supporting me.
"My family will fly to Morocco with me for the Club World Cup and we will head to Brazil from there. I am happy to return to Fluminense but I thank Guangzhou and my stay in China will be a fond memory to cherish."
We are looking to become the world champions and we have the confidence needed to win it heading into the competition.
Guangzhou talismanWhen Conca joined Guangzhou in the middle of the 2011 season, the fanfare his move caused was evident. Having made waves with Fluminense in Brazil for years, including earning the league's Player of the Year honour in 2010, he arrived in China as one of the C-League's established stars.
It didn't, as expected, take him too long to make his presence strongly felt. In fact, Conca made an immediate impact with his new club, coming off bench to score in his debut as Guangzhou demolished Nanchang by 5-0. He has since been unstoppable, racking up 50 goals and providing no less than 34 assists in 93 appearances.
Under Lippi, Conca and his team-mates have won three successive league titles, an FA Cup, a Chinese Super Cup and above all, this year's AFC Champions League.
With his spell in the Chinese League off to a good start, Conca went on to dazzle Asia with his mesmerising runs and pin-point passes in Guangzhou's first AFC Champions League appearance last year. The diminutive midfielder scored a brace and set up another as Guangzhou stunned 2006 winners and hosts Jeonbuk Motors 5-1 in the opener. Conca would manage another four goals as he finished the team's top-scorer and Guangzhou stormed into the last eight.
His form was all the more eye-catching in this year's Champions League, providing eight goals and five assists to help Guangzhou to the Asian crown -the first time for a Chinese club to do so since Liaoning lifted the trophy in 1991.
"To be honest, I didn't expect to achieve so much with Guangzhou," Conca said. "Upon my arrival in Guangzhou the club told me they were hoping I would help the team win the Asian title within five years. I am happy that we made it in less than three years.
"We were all excited to achieve this. For all of us, winning the Asian championship is special because it means we have qualified for the Club World Cup."
World Cup dreamsConca, who turned 30 years old on 11th this May, recently told a Chinese newspaper that he has dreamt of being called up to represent Argentina and play alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez. It remains to be seen whether he will make Alejandro Sabella's La Albiceleste at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, however, the mercurial playmaker can at least showcase his talents to the world at Morocco 2013.
"The Club World Cup will be a hard test for us," he spoke of his first FIFA tournament. "We will meet the African champions (Al Ahly) and if we make it through, awaiting us are the likes of Bayern Munich and Atletico Mineiro. It requires us to pay more energy and passion.
"No one likes losing games. Neither do I. We are looking to become the world champions and we have the confidence needed to win it heading into the competition," Conca concluded.