Without Paulinho, Scolari targets Asian glory for Guangzhou
By JOHN DUERDEN
Aug. 21, 2017
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Even without star midfielder Paulinho following his departure for Barcelona, Guangzhou Evergrande head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is confident of completing an unprecedented double in China and Asia.
No team has won the Asian Champions League three times since the current format emerged in 2002 but after success in 2013 and 2015, the big-spending Chinese powerhouse is in contention to become the first. Guangzhou takes on domestic rival Shanghai SIPG in the first leg of the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Already, Scolari is close to leading the club to a seventh successive Chinese Super League title. On Saturday, Guangzhou moved eight points clear of second-place Shanghai with just seven games remaining.
With Guangzhou set to triumph at home, Shanghai has a chance for revenge in Asia and the continental match-up could be a different story.
Guangzhou has to deal with the absence of the influential Paulinho. The Brazilian international scored five goals in eight Champions League games this year.
"We will miss Paulinho," Scolari said, adding that he hadn't settled on a lineup. "After Paulinho's departure and Huang Bowen's injury our midfield faces challenges."
Led by another former Chelsea coach Andre Villas-Boas, Shanghai is still waiting for a first title, domestic or continental.
Earlier in August, the Portuguese coach claimed that the team's recent struggles in the league were because of the eight-game league ban given to star midfielder Oscar, who signed from Chelsea in January for a fee of around $60 million. The Brazilian kicked the ball at two opponents in June, an act that caused a mass brawl on the field.
"It was the decision by the CFA (Chinese Football Association) to suspend one of the best players in the world for eight games, so what can we do?" Villas-Boas said. "Of course we miss Oscar ... Our bad spell responds to the fact that we had Oscar suspended for eight games."
Not only will Oscar be available, along with Brazilian compatriot Hulk, who has scored six goals in the Asian Champions League so far, but Villas-Boas received another boost last week by breaking a drought against the Guangzhou club.
In 12 previous meetings between the two rivals, Shanghai had never won. That changed with a 2-1 victory in the first leg of their China FA Cup semifinal.
The victor of this all-Chinese Champions League quarterfinal will face Japanese opposition in the semifinal. No team from the J. League has reached the final since 2008, but that could change as Urawa Reds meet Kawasaki Frontale.
Urawa won the 2007 title, but Kawasaki Frontale has never progressed past the quarterfinal stage before.
The tournament is divided into two geographic zones until the final. In West Asia, the big game is between 2016 finalist Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabian giant Al Hilal.
The remaining quarterfinal features Al Ahli, also from Saudi Arabia, and Persepolis of Iran. The return legs will take place next month.