Football: Asia’s ‘Man Utd’ face scrap for title

Football: Asia’s ‘Man Utd’ face scrap for title
China's Guangzhou Evergrande head football coach Marcello Lippi speaks at a press conference ahead of the AFC Champions League final first leg in Seoul on October 25, 2013.

BEIJING - China's Guangzhou Evergrande are long established as hot favourites for the AFC Champions League title but they have a fight on their hands in Saturday's showdown with FC Seoul.

The well-heeled Chinese champions, led by World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi, have not been short of goals but their defensive frailties could haunt them in the final's second leg in Guangzhou.

Evergrande will be kicking themselves after a late equaliser saw them pegged back to 2-2 in the first leg, threatening their bid to become the competition's first Chinese winners.

Argentine midfielder Dario Conca, the fulcrum of Evergrande's South American-inspired attack, said a sea of red at the Tianhe Sports Center stadium would aid the hosts.

But he added that Evergrande, dubbed "the Manchester United of Asia" during their free-scoring journey to the final, would need to hang tough against hard-running FC Seoul.

"It's going to be amazing to be at home because this is our place, we know the field and we have our fans to support us and this is our stadium and it's going to be something positive for us," Conca told the South China Morning Post.

"But in the end, it's not the biggest factor that will influence the result of the match," he added. "It's up to us to do our work and to put 100 per cent effort into winning the game."

Dejan Damjanovic did the damage a fortnight ago with the 83rd-minute equaliser, which gave FC Seoul hope for the second leg.

And on Sunday, the ponytailed Montenegrin underlined the danger posed by the K-League champions when he struck twice in their come-from-behind 2-1 win against Suwon Bluewings.

Damjanovic said FC Seoul, who have only lost once away in this year's competition, planned to run the hosts ragged as they seek the necessary win or high-scoring draw.

"You saw during the last 10-15 minutes that the Chinese players could not run, they couldn't play, and they were lucky we missed a few chances," the forward said of the first leg.

"And believe me, it will be the same in the second leg. That is the K-League style because we can run," added Damjanovic, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website.

"It was an unbelievable final and we are going there and we will not give up. It is going to be another unbelievable game."

Evergrande warmed up for the second leg with a 5-0 thrashing of Wuhan Zall that left them 18 points clear in the Chinese Super League's final standings.

While China's last success at this level was Liaoning's 1990 victory in the former Asian Club Championship, FC Seoul can become the Champions League's fifth Korean winners since its inception in 2003.

 

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