Having played out a goalless draw at Al Ahli in the first leg of the 2015 AFC Champions League final, China's Guangzhou Evergrande are hopeful of winning their second Asian title with a home victory in the return at home on Saturday. This match is, indeed, reminiscent of the 2013 final when the Chinese champions drew 2-2 away at FC Seoul, before going on to tasting their maiden continental success with a 1-1 stalemate at home - a result which sealed Guangzhou's aggregate victory on away goals.
Two years on, the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup participants are on the verge of recapturing the Asian laurels. While home supporters are hoping history repeats itself, midfielder Huang Bowen warns that the scenario facing them is different this time around.
"Things are definitely different," the 28-year-old China and Guangzhou midfielder told FIFA.com. "Last time we drew 2-2 away so we progressed with a 1-1 draw at home in the return. But this time we drew 0-0 at Al Ahli, which means we face a must-win in the home game. We should maintain our focus and try to end this year's campaign with a victory."
"Al Ahli are a strong team," he added. "They have several good players with good skills. It will be a tough game against them so we should enter the re-match well-prepared. We can't afford to take them lightly."
*Spectacular goals *
Huang played an integral part when Guangzhou lifted the continental trophy last time. This year's campaign has, however, seen him make even more of an impact as his side earned their return to the final. Notably, besides bossing the midfield alongside captain Zheng Zhi, he scored three crucial goals during the knockout stage which helped Guangzhou through.
All the more impressive were the spectacular fashion in which he found the back of the net. He broke his AFC Champions League duck by netting the equaliser at Seongnam FC in the Round of 16, when he fired a sumptuous 30-yarder into the right top corner. Huang's second came in the quarter-final return match against Kashiwa Reysol when he latched onto Zheng Zhi's chipped pass to volley home an equaliser which sealed Guangzhou's progression to the last four.
He continued his goal-scoring form in the subsequent semi-final clash with 2008 champions Gamba Osaka. Guangzhou were behind in the first leg at home when defender Feng Xiaoting scored an own goal. With the Japanese pressing hard, Huang came to the team's rescue, running onto an Elkeson pass before equalising via a fine piece of improvisation.
"I was only lucky to score these goals," Huang said modestly. "I didn't plan to score in a certain fashion and what I was mostly thinking about was setting up goals. But the goals came naturally when I tried."
World class coaches
If Guangzhou prevail against Al Ahli and complete an Asian brace, it will mark another success under a FIFA World Cup™-winning coach. Last time it was Germany 2006 victor Lippi who took them to the continental title, and now it is Korea/Japan 2002 winner Luiz Felipe Scolari's turn to guide them through.
And Huang willingly paid tribute to both coaches' contribution to Guangzhou's progress. "These are two world class coaches," he said. "They may differ in coaching styles, but they are both able to transform the team with their knowledge and experience. We have become mentally stronger under their guidance and especially, the team's spirit is high."
"Two years ago, we were very much an attack-minded team under Lippi. But now with Scolari in charge, our team has been transformed into a new side. We have more balance between defence and attack. We remain an offensively strong side and our back-line has become more solid. We have entered a new level.”
Having rubbed shoulders with the world's best in their last FIFA Club World Cup at Morocco 2013, Huang is keen on sealing the club’s return to the global showpiece. "We are hoping to win our second Asian title and especially, by doing so we can play in our second Club World Cup representing out continent. Two years ago, we had a nice experience in our debut FIFA tournament in Morocco and now we want to make it to the Club World Cup again.”