SEOUL, South Korea — Guangzhou Evergrande has spent over $100 million since 2010 on Italian coaches like Marcello Lippi and Fabio Cannavaro and on South American talent such as Dario Conca and Ricardo Goulart, so leaving the 2015 Asian Champions League at the second round stage is certainly not part of the plan.
Cantonese club, which has won the last four Chinese Super League titles and the 2013 continental crown, said goodbye to Lippi in November 2014 as the World Cup-winning coach returned to Europe after two and a half years of success. Cannavaro, the 2006 World Cup-winning captain was hired as his replacement.
Under Cannavaro, Guangzhou topped a tough group in round one of the Asian Champions League, eliminating the 2014 champion Western Sydney Wanderers along the way.
The first leg of the knockout stage did not go to plan however as, last Wednesday, the cashed-up Chinese club lost the first leg to South Korea's Seongnam FC 2-1. The mid-table K-League team won the game thanks to a controversial penalty in the 96th minute after Guangzhou had a player sent off earlier in the second half.
At home on Wednesday, Guangzhou needs a win to stay in the competition. After reaching at least the quarterfinals in all three of its previous appearances, bowing out at this stage would be perceived as failure in Cannavaro's debut season as a head coach.
The former defender has told his players to channel the disappointment and frustration of the first leg in front of what should be a crowd of over 40,000 at the Tianhe Stadium.
"They are angry because it was a tough match and we had a red card and a penalty, but I trust they will use this anger in the second match when we play at home in Guangzhou," Cannavaro said. "We scored an away goal and that is very important, and we will look to prepare and we will see who passes to the next round."
Guangzhou has some injury issues and is likely to be missing Brazilian stars Elkeson and Rene Junior, and South Korean international defender Kim Yong-gwon.
Seongnam is coached by the experienced Kim Hak-beom, who took the team to the 2007 semifinals.
"The next match will be played in completely different circumstances so we will begin to prepare soon, but I will take some time to make a plan for the match in Guangzhou," Kim said.
Seongnam was the only South Korean team to win its second-round first leg, despite the country having four representatives still in the tournament. Instead, the J-League came to the fore.
After years of underachievement in the tournament, Japan should have two teams in the last eight. Since Gamba Osaka won the title in 2008, no J-League club has made the final.
Osaka started the 2015 edition slowly, collecting just one point from the first three games yet still recovered to top its group. In the second round, Osaka won 3-1 at FC Seoul in the first leg, thanks to two fine goals from Japanese international Takashi Usami.
Kashiwa Reysol started strongly from the very beginning to book a place in the second round and a 3-2 first leg victory over Suwon Bluewings in South Korea. In the remaining match in the eastern half of the draw — the tournament is divided into two geographical zones until the final — Beijing Guoan picked up a 1-1 draw at the home of Jeonbuk Motors in South Korea.
In the western half, Michael Laudrup is close to taking Lekhwiya to the quarterfinal ahead of Qatari rival and 2011 champion Al Sadd. The former Barcelona and Real Madrid star led his team to a 2-1 win in the first leg.
Laudrup and Lekhwiya won the domestic title in April, although the team has never progressed past the last eight in the Asian Champions League.
"Winning in the first leg will give us a good advantage before the second leg but the two teams still have a chance to qualify to the quarter-finals," said Laudrup. "We lost the efforts of one player due to a red card but we should be able to organize ourselves well before the second match."
The two biggest teams in West Asia meet with Persepolis of Iran 1-0 ahead of Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal. One hundred thousand watched the first leg with sixty thousand expected in Riyadh to cheer on the 2014 finalist.
The other Saudi Arabia-Iran clash has Naft Tehran traveling to Riyadh to take on Ahli with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg. The first leg of the all United Arab Emirates clash between Al Ain and Al Ahli ended goalless.
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