Football: Scolari urges Guangzhou to seize semi initiative

Football: Scolari urges Guangzhou to seize semi initiative
Brazillian Guangzhou Evergrande coach Luiz Felipe Scolari looks on during the AFC Champions League quarter-final football match between China's Guangzhou Evergrande and Japan's Kashiwa Reysol in Kashiwa on August 25, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

SINGAPORE - Former World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari wants Guangzhou Evergrande to seize the initiative when they host Gamba Osaka in the first leg of the AFC Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday.

Scolari, who led Brazil to victory at the 2002 World Cup, has revived the fortunes of the Chinese champions since replacing Italian Fabio Cannavaro as head coach in June.

Evergrande are unbeaten in their last 16 competitive matches and lead the Chinese Super League by two points after a 3-2 comeback win over Guizhou Renhe on Saturday sealed by Paulinho's injury-time winner created by fellow Brazilian superstar import Robinho.

Evergrande eliminated Japan's Kashiwa Reysol 4-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals and Scolari wants no let-up in their quest to lift the Asian club title for the second time in three seasons.

"Every second on the field is going to be important in the game on Wednesday," said Scolari in the build-up to the first leg at Tianhe stadium in the southern Chinese metropolis.

"We have to try to avoid conceding a goal and ensure we play the second leg with a larger advantage. Gamba are a tough team, their manager Kenta Hasegawa has his own style, and anything can happen in football.

"The team has confidence, though, and the mood among the players is great. We are determined not to let our fans down." Champions of Asia in 2008, Gamba were in Japan's second tier when Guangzhou won AFC Champions League in 2013. They secured promotion before winning the J League, League Cup and Emperor's Cup last year.

Gamba are unbeaten in their last eight matches and reached the semi-finals after Koki Yonekura's stoppage-time goal gave them a 3-2 aggregate victory over South Korean champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

With leading scorer Takashi Usami available after a one-game suspension, Hasegawa is confident that his team can get a result in China that will set them up well for the second leg in Osaka on October 21.

"We know Guangzhou is strong and a team with great quality. There are many talented players, with the Chinese players in particular playing with confidence," said the Gamba boss.

"However, we intend to play our 'Gamba Style' and try our best to advance to the final.

"Since we reached the knockout stage, we have had every second leg at home. For us, this is proving to be a good schedule." The winners of the tie will meet either Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal or United Arab Emirates side Al Ahli in the final in November.

Al Hilal, the 2014 runners-up, host the first leg in Riyadh on Tuesday with the return game in Dubai on October 20.

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