Singapore: Marcello Lippi has pledged no let-up from a rampant Guangzhou Evergrande as the Chinese champions look to sweep into their first AFC Champions League final on Wednesday.
The World Cup-winning coach watched as his South American-inspired attack poured on four second-half goals against Kashiwa Reysol to win last week’s semi-final first leg 4-1 away from home.
But Lippi said Guangzhou, dubbed “the Manchester United of Asia”, will not ease up in the return fixture as they bid to confirm themselves as China’s first finalists in 15 years.
“We are still on the way to moving on to the next stage. But we want to win to advance to the next round,” said the veteran Italian.
Since Dalian Wanda were runners-up in the 1998 Asian Club Championships, the Champions League’s predecessor, no Chinese club has reached the final.
But Guangzhou have established themselves as favourites to win this year’s competition, a feat that would end China’s long drought stretching back to Liaoning’s victory in 1990.
Since topping a tough Group F, Guangzhou have cruised through the eliminators scoring 15 goals in their five knock-out games so far, against only three conceded.
On Saturday, the team from China’s industrial south hit four more goals in a 4-0 win against Hangzhou Greentown, to stay 11 points clear in the domestic league with a game in hand.
Although Lippi says he’s not complacent about reaching the two-legged final, it would be surprising if he had not already run the rule over Guangzhou’s potential opposition.
South Korean champions FC Seoul hold the edge over Esteghlal after their 2-0 home win last week, but they will be wary ahead of this week’s away leg at Tehran’s intimidating Azadi Stadium.
Led by Montenegrin striker Dejan Damjanovic and Colombian midfielder Mauricio Molina, Seoul have the tools to get the job done against the Iranian title-holders.
But they will rue several missed chances at the end of the first leg, while Esteghlal will take heart from some close opportunities of their own.
“When we go to Tehran, everything will be different,” warned FC Seoul coach Choi Yong-Soo, in a press release from tournament promoters.
“The altitude will have an effect with the ball bouncing differently and with the shooting speed. This is something that we have to think about and prepare for.”
The two teams have previously met at this stage, but at that time both the competition and FC Seoul, then playing as Anyang Cheetahs, had a different name.
In what could be an omen, the South Korean team ousted Esteghlal on that occasion, in the 2002 Asian Club Championship semi-finals, when they went to the Azadi Stadium and won 2-1.
AFC Champions League semi-final, second legs to be played on Wednesday:
Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) v Kashiwa Reysol (JPN), 4PM UAE
First leg: Kashiwa Reysol 1 Guangzhou Evergrande 4
Esteghlal (IRI) v FC Seoul (KOR), 7.30PM UAE
First leg: FC Seoul 2 Esteghlal 0