Big Phil feel­ing heat in China

Big-spend­ing Guangzhou fail in the Cham­pi­ons League

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE -

Since Guangzhou Ever­grande started the new wave of spend­ing in Chi­nese foot­ball in 2010, the club has en­joyed con­stant suc­cess - un­til now.

The ti­tle-hold­ers were last week dumped out of the Asian Cham­pi­ons League with a game still re­main­ing in the group stage.

This is de­spite Guangzhou spend­ing more than $200 mil­lion on play­ers and coaches in the past five years, in­clud­ing al­most $50m Jack­son Martinez from Atletico Madrid.

The club has not only won the past five Chi­nese Su­per League ti­tles un­der World Cup-win­ning man­agers Mar­cello Lippi and Luiz Felipe Sco­lari, but they have also won two of the past three con­ti­nen­tal crowns.

Two points from the first four group games this sea­son meant that the 2-0 mid­week win at South Korea’s Po­hang Steel­ers could not pre­vent the early exit. For the first time since ar­riv­ing in China in June 2015, Sco­lari finds him­self un­der pres­sure from the me­dia.

“It has been a dif­fi­cult week for us,” said Sco­lari. “We ob­vi­ously had am­bi­tions in Asia but now we have to fo­cus on win­ning the Chi­nese Su­per League. The stan­dard is get­ting higher and we face a chal­lenge ev­ery week.”

Guangzhou are go­ing well in the do­mes­tic league and cap­tain and twotime Asian Player of the Year Zheng Zhi wants to en­sure that the club qual­i­fies for next year’s Cham­pi­ons League.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we failed to get to the sec­ond round for many rea­sons,” said Zheng. “We have to face re­al­ity and start think­ing about the league and FA Cup. We want to be cham­pi­ons and then get into Asia once again.”

Guangzhou has long iden­ti­fied its stature with Asian suc­cess. In their four pre­vi­ous ap­pear­ances, the club reached the semi-fi­nals and quar­ter­fi­nals as well as their two wins.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse for Guangzhou is that do­mes­tic ri­vals Shang­hai SIPG have pro­gressed to the sec­ond round, helped by two of Guangzhou’s for­mer stars.

Striker Elke­son has ex­celled for Shang­hai while Martinez has yet to score in Asia - a fact that has not gone un­no­ticed by Guangzhou fans.

“He [Elke­son] is a top-class striker and scores con­sis­tently,” said Shang­hai man­ager Sven-Go­ran Eriks­son, who was de­lighted at se­cur­ing a place in the last 16.

“Last year Shang­hai were dream­ing about win­ning the AFC Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle and up till now we’ve been do­ing pretty good. Ev­ery­one at the club and all the fans are all very happy.”

Per­haps al­most as pleas­ing for Eriks­son is that he has of­ten ended up as sec­ond best in past meet­ings with Sco­lari. The Brazil­ian knocked Eriks­son’s Eng­land out of the 2002 and 2006 World Cup and the 2004 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships, all at the quar­ter-fi­nal stage.

Sco­lari also tri­umphed in the 2015 Chi­nese Su­per League, fin­ish­ing first above Eriks­son’s Shang­hai in sec­ond.

But now the ex­pe­ri­enced Swede may be hav­ing the last laugh, much to the frus­tra­tion of ev­ery­one at Guangzhou.

A BAD WEEK: For Luiz Felipe Sco­lari and his Guangzhou team

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